The Elephant Man

Expect the circus industry to use everything it’s got to defeat Bob Smith, the conservative Republican senator from New Hampshire, who is announcing his presidential bid today. In 1995, Smith tried to prevent the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus from bringing circus elephants to the U.S. Capitol grounds to celebrate its 125th anniversary. Smith–who with his large frame and lumbering gait and longish nose is a bit, well, elephantine–was concerned that the elephants might rage out of control, harming themselves or spectators. “How do you stop an elephant if it goes berserk in the Capitol?” Smith said at the time. Although this remark might easily have been mistaken for trenchant commentary about the GOP’s stewardship of Congress after it won back the House in 1994, in fact it was meant quite literally to be a statement of concern about the welfare of real elephants.

According to Roll Call, here is what Smith said on the Senate floor about the matter on April 3, 1995 (the final version of the Congressional Record does not contain these remarks, presumably because Smith tidied them up, as is routinely permitted): “We do not see what happens when the circus is not around. When we are not watching the circus. … We are seeing the animal out there with his trunk around another elephant’s tail and gets up and does a trick. That looks cute and I have seen it. … I know the types of criticism and the ridicule that I get. People say you are an animal rights nut. I am not. I am not. But they [the elephants, not Smith’s critics] do not have anybody. There is nobody who can come out here on the floor. An elephant cannot come out here on the floor. No animal can come out here. It does not have any congressmen or senators to represent it. So if somebody does not speak up, who do they have?”

–Timothy Noah