Commentary Magazine


Topic: dogs

Must Love Dogs to Be President? Not Really.

It’s very early in the 2016 presidential cycle but already the editors of the New York Times seem to have run out of coherent story ideas. That’s the only rational conclusion to be drawn from a feature that appeared on the front page of the flagship institution of the mainstream liberal press today. It’s subject: the impact of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s allergy to dogs. This is ripe territory for humor circulated on Twitter or other comedy forums and it is April Fool’s Day, but the Times isn’t kidding. Written in a deadpan style, the piece actually attempts to measure the impact that Walker’s lack of a canine pet might have on his candidacy. In it experts, such as someone from what we are told is a Presidential Pet Museum, informs us that dogs humanize candidates and make them more approachable. But though dogs have often been useful political props, the notion that this is a real problem for Walker’s candidacy is a joke. He may not win his party’s nomination or the general election but if that happens, it will have nothing to do with an allergy to dander.

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It’s very early in the 2016 presidential cycle but already the editors of the New York Times seem to have run out of coherent story ideas. That’s the only rational conclusion to be drawn from a feature that appeared on the front page of the flagship institution of the mainstream liberal press today. It’s subject: the impact of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s allergy to dogs. This is ripe territory for humor circulated on Twitter or other comedy forums and it is April Fool’s Day, but the Times isn’t kidding. Written in a deadpan style, the piece actually attempts to measure the impact that Walker’s lack of a canine pet might have on his candidacy. In it experts, such as someone from what we are told is a Presidential Pet Museum, informs us that dogs humanize candidates and make them more approachable. But though dogs have often been useful political props, the notion that this is a real problem for Walker’s candidacy is a joke. He may not win his party’s nomination or the general election but if that happens, it will have nothing to do with an allergy to dander.

It’s true that consultants love for their candidates to have pets. A successful mayoral candidate’s rented dog was a feature in the classic novel and film The Last Hurrah which detailed the way an insubstantial figure who was created by and for television could defeat a traditional political boss. Franklin Roosevelt used a supposed insult to his dog Fala to good use in his 1944 reelection campaign. Richard Nixon helped save his political career by pulling on the heartstrings of viewers when he told them of the gift of a puppy named “Checkers” to his children instead of discussing allegations of a slush fund.

In recent decades, presidential dogs have been used to good effect by presidents of both parties. George H.W. Bush’s dog Millie was credited as the author of a best-selling book. Most political observers thought Bill Clinton’s decision to get a dog during his second term was motivated by the need to help distract the public from less wholesome scandals that threatened to destroy his presidency.

But though most presidents or their family members have had pets of one kind or another, the idea that the absence of one in a Walker White House would actually impact the outcome of an election is a bit of a stretch even for the Times.

Americans generally love dogs. Moreover, the pet industry has become a huge business in a country where many people often treat their animals as if they were their children. But that doesn’t mean everybody is happy about this state of affairs. I have a sneaking suspicion that there are a lot of voters who not only wouldn’t hold his lack of a furry friend against Walker, but also might identify with him more than the editors of the Times and the proprietors of the Presidential Pet Museum might think.

After all, allergy sufferers might be just as potent a demographic group as any in a presidential election. Moreover, it could also be that people who send their dogs to spas and summer camps are likely to be liberal Democrats who would never vote for a tax-cutting governor who is a conservative folk hero for standing up to municipal worker unions.

Actually, I have no more idea whether that assumption is true than the editors of the Times have for their assumptions about dog ownership equaling likeability. Which is to say that all speculation about the dog vote in 2016 is as uninformed and ridiculous as much of what often passes for straight political coverage in the Times.

But Walker can take one piece of consolation from this bit of nonsense from the Times. If he wasn’t a serious political contender whose ability to engender support from mainstream Republicans, Tea Partiers, and evangelicals is scaring both his GOP rivals and Democrats, the Times wouldn’t have wasted space on its front page poking fun at his allergies.

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Does this Mean the Dog War is Over?

The Daily Caller’s Jim Treacher performed a public service yesterday when he wrote a blog post that may well remove the dog issue from the 2012 presidential election. While liberal columnists and Obama campaign hacks have spent the last few minutes yucking it up about the supposedly abusive treatment of Mitt Romney’s dog Seamus during a 1983 family road trip to Canada, Treacher dug up an excerpt from President Obama’s best-selling memoir that can’t be pleasing to all those “Dog Lovers for Obama” members. In a wonderfully humorous piece titled “Obama bites dog,” Treacher noted that during his childhood stay in Indonesia, the president ate dogs.

The president’s supporters say the identity of the animals he consumed, apparently without complaint and with no later regrets, as a child ought not to be an issue in a presidential election. They are right about that. But the same can be said about all the nonsense written about Romney’s dog. Treacher’s quip about the Secret Service needing to worry about the safety of presidential dog Bo is no more or less foolish than the equally funny jibes about Seamus. Which means that in order to spare the president any further embarrassment, Democrats may cease and desist trying to exploit the Seamus issue. Or at least the Twitter war between Romney and Obama’s strategists over this stuff will come to an end.

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The Daily Caller’s Jim Treacher performed a public service yesterday when he wrote a blog post that may well remove the dog issue from the 2012 presidential election. While liberal columnists and Obama campaign hacks have spent the last few minutes yucking it up about the supposedly abusive treatment of Mitt Romney’s dog Seamus during a 1983 family road trip to Canada, Treacher dug up an excerpt from President Obama’s best-selling memoir that can’t be pleasing to all those “Dog Lovers for Obama” members. In a wonderfully humorous piece titled “Obama bites dog,” Treacher noted that during his childhood stay in Indonesia, the president ate dogs.

The president’s supporters say the identity of the animals he consumed, apparently without complaint and with no later regrets, as a child ought not to be an issue in a presidential election. They are right about that. But the same can be said about all the nonsense written about Romney’s dog. Treacher’s quip about the Secret Service needing to worry about the safety of presidential dog Bo is no more or less foolish than the equally funny jibes about Seamus. Which means that in order to spare the president any further embarrassment, Democrats may cease and desist trying to exploit the Seamus issue. Or at least the Twitter war between Romney and Obama’s strategists over this stuff will come to an end.

Of course, neither story is really to the discredit of either man. People in some countries eat dogs the way Americans eat cows, sheep and pigs. Making a big deal about Obama’s Indonesian cuisine is silly. As for Romney, as I wrote when this story was first getting traction, a trip in a dog carrier enjoying the breeze on the top of a car obviously did Seamus no harm even if it seems like an odd or poorly considered decision. And even if one thinks ill of Romney’s method of dog transportation, it’s not clear why something he did in 1983 ought to be considered an issue, while talking about virtually anything Obama did or anyone he associated with during the same time is considered insensitive or racist.

But as we all knew already, logic or reason never had anything to do with this. In the last generation, normal partisan sparring has escalated to the point where each new president provokes a new derangement syndrome among his opponents. Democrats will say anything they can to tear down Romney, especially things that might chip away at his wholesome image. Republicans will do the same to Obama. But now that both parties each have a dog issue to belabor their opponents, perhaps deterrence will set in and we will hear no more of this. At any rate, let’s hope so.

Unfortunately, the underlying problem goes a lot deeper than the superficial concerns about canine safety or cuisine. Democrats’ hatred for Republicans is so deep that many on the left are not talking about Seamus in order to make partisan points, but because they actually are ready to believe Romney is guilty of animal cruelty in the same way Republicans are often prepared to buy into any story, no matter how unlikely, that would paint Obama as a villain. This willingness to demonize our political opponents is the real problem–not the dogs.

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