To the Dogs

If you type the word "romney" into a Google search bar, the #2 result that fills in automatically is romney + dog. (In fact, if you type "romney(spacebar)" you'll get it as your #1 option.) It's listed above romney + vs Obama, romney + for president, and romney + Illinois. Worse (for Mitt, anyway) the result after that is romney + dog roof.

In other words, Mitt's Google problem is only marginally better than Rick Santorum's, though the former is at least a little easier to bring up in polite company. Millions of people are out there looking for information on the now-infamous story of Mitt's having driven off to Canada with his dog strapped onto the car roof, and the story isn't dying down; if anything, it's growing more intense, as witnessed by the existence of DogsAgainstRomney.com, featuring a variety of posters, t-shirts, and other products and images intended to keep the story of Seamus, the Romney family's late Irish setter, in the public eye.

The events that catapulted Seamus to internet glory occurred in 1983.

Family members told the Globe that Romney attached a special windshield onto Seamus' carrier to protect him from the wind. Romney was traveling that summer with his wife, five sons, and Seamus to his parent's cottage on Lake Huron. But hours into the ride, Seamus apparently suffered diarrhea, which ran down the back window of the car. Romney's sons, all under 14, howled in disgust. Romney pulled off the road into a service station. There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, and they drove on to Ontario.

The first account of this incident was reported by the Boston Globe in 2007 (though the original article seems to have been removed from the Globe's website), and it created something of an uproar even then. Nowadays, as Romney grows increasingly likely to be the Republican nominee for president in November, it's drawing increased attention, and I've seen more than a few Republicans who are upset about that attention, protesting that they've "seen dogs riding on the back of pickup trucks on many occasions... they seem to like the air blowing on them."

Leaving aside the question of whether a dog in a pickup bed is getting the same kind of breeze as a dog spending twelve hours in a cartop carrier, not to mention the question of whether Seamus' explosive diarrhea ought to be considered a direct commentary on his feelings about the issue, it's also worth noting that some Republicans have not hesitated to attack Romney for his actions. These Republicans, however, are also hoping to earn the party's nomination this fall, so we may perhaps consider the dog-related criticisms issued by the Gingrich and Santorum camps to be somewhat compromised.

In general, though, the attempts to defend Romney's actions strike me as unconvincing. You don't have to be an animal rights advocate to see problems with the decision to strap Seamus to the roof; all you really have to be is reasonably aware of what happens on interstates at high speeds. Practically anyone who has done any driving at all has come across items thrown from pickup beds or roof racks, sometimes because they weren't properly secured, or sometimes because the vehicle they were secured to was involved in an accident. I've seen lumber, suitcases, even whole trash cans that got flung into the roadway, and it's not hard to imagine a station wagon being forced into a situation where its rooftop cargo might come loose: a sudden stop that throws the carrier forward at 70 mph... an oblivious 18-wheeler lurching from the other lane, forcing the driver to whip the car sideways... or worst of all, catching a wheel in a soft shoulder and beginning a roll. Even what's under the roof will be in great danger in such a scenario; what's on top of the roof will very likely end up unrecognizable.

The story of Piddler on the Roof , then, seems like a good reason not to vote for Romney, but not because it's a case of Mean Mitt deliberately attempting to inflict suffering on his family dog. I'm more inclined to see it, as I've seen it written up, as an example of Mitt's lack of empathy, an inability to consider the feelings of others (e.g., the very poor) who may be affected by his decisions. That strikes me as reasonable, but perhaps not the best summary of the case.

Basically, I see the story of Seamus as the story of Mitt Romney's lack of judgment. If there's one thing a president must have, it's the ability to consider the consequences of his actions. And frankly, I don't want to elect a Chief Executive who'll be forced to pull the country over two years into his term in order to clean up all the shit he was too oblivious to expect.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on March 21, 2012 10:14 AM.

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