Mama Bear’s Unlikely Run (and Win) for Mayor
Campaign lessons from a famous family in children’s literature
As an elections analyst, it can be hard to stop thinking about politics even when I get home for the day. Sometimes, I see political themes in my kids’ books even when they aren’t political books. And a few nights ago at bedtime, one of my sons brought me “Mama for Mayor” from the famous Berenstain Bears series, and I critiqued her campaign page by page.
The book (and journey) begins with an innocent car ride through Bear Country, but the family’s life is drastically changed when they hit a hole and a bump in the road.
It doesn’t appear that anyone was injured (so this wasn’t a Darlene Hooley situation) or that the car was even damaged, but it was apparently enough to set Mama Bear off. I hadn’t seen Mama that upset since Brother Bear and Sister Bear failed to clean their room or when they forgot their manners.
This lack of basic infrastructure quickly sent Mama Bear to a dark place where elected office became an option.
“Someone should do something about this road,” said Mama immediately.
“Yes,” said Papa, “But who?”
A populist campaign
Mama Bear got home and contemplated her decision to run for mayor for all of one page, then listened to the echo chamber of her family at the dinner table. Instead of relying on political professionals, party officials, or an initial poll, she relied on two elementary school-age mammals, a bear cub, and Papa Bear for political advice.
With the filing deadline looming, Mama Bear immediately went to town hall to file her candidacy. She then proceeded to launch a grass-roots campaign solely comprised of her immediate family, including Papa, who hadn’t had the wherewithal to land a half-decent picnic spot a few years prior.
Over just a few pages, Mama’s campaign managed to mirror at least a couple of things losing candidates say. And her effort wasn’t half the campaign run by Amelia Bedelia, the fictitious nanny, who came up short in a mayoral race.
The Mama Bear campaign consisted of handmade posters, Papa driving around (in the apparently unharmed family car), shouting through a megaphone, and a batch of red and white buttons, T-shirts, and hats. (It’s unclear whether Donald Trump modeled his campaign after Mama Bear’s effort.)
The election appeared to turn on the final debate.
Mama Bear stood out as the only female candidate against three male bears who apparently took her for granted. One bear was cocky enough to wear a turtleneck, rather than a traditional tie. (We later learn that the candidate’s slogan was “Cool It,” so there were probably deeper issues there.)
After three “boring speeches,” Mama got up and played to the crowd, who was anxious for an outsider. She stopped short of promising the moon, but did guarantee better roads, new streetlights, trash pickup, honey in every pot and salmon in every stream. Her speech was so over-the-top that Papa Bear tried to dial her back, but her mouth kept writing checks that her furry backside couldn’t cash.
She should have known this would catch up to her. She had scolded Brother and Sister about telling the truth in a previous book.
“I’m not worried about the lamp. We can always get another lamp, or we can glue this one back together,” Mama said. “Trust is not something you can put back together again.”
Mama’s populist message and focus on local issues struck a chord, but her campaign tactics were bizarre.
She voted early and then the family ate breakfast at The Burger Bar, where Mama shook hands and kissed babies. But then the family went home to read magazines and play board games. There was no evidence of an Election Day get-out-the-vote operation.
They even went to bed without following or knowing the results. Mama Bear didn’t learn about her victory until a congratulatory mob formed outside her house that night.
But folks returned the next morning demanding action from Mama. It’s not clear whether they were paid protesters, but they were uninformed. There is no way Mama Bear could have been sworn in between election night and being woken up the next morning — and have any opportunity or authority to implement change. But the protestors successfully rattled Mama to her core.
On the final page, Brother Bear drops some serious wisdom for all political candidates.
“There is just one thing wrong with running for mayor,” said Brother. “You just might win.”