America’s electorate is sliced, diced and analyzed in minute detail, but there’s one comparative poll yet to be conducted: What is worse in the eyes of voters, having eaten dog meat or having put the family dog in a crate on the roof of a car for 12 hours?
This is not a trifling question in a country with close to 80 million pet dogs, whose owners treat them as family members and might be disinclined to give their votes to a candidate perceived as a dog eater, in the case of President Barack Obama, or a dog abuser, in the case of his presumptive Republican rival for the presidency, Mitt Romney.
The crated dog on the roof, an Irish setter named Seamus, has dogged Romney on and off ever since the story came to light in 2007. Obama’s dog-eating is a recent addition to the ever-growing catalog of anecdotes collected by Republican and Democratic activists and campaign operatives to paint the other side’s candidate in the darkest possible colors.
The dog stories have legs, so to say, and are likely to stay part of the election campaign until it finally ends on November 6. To refresh the memories of those who might have followed the campaign for weightier topics – high unemployment, say, or the war in Afghanistan – here is a recapitulation of what happened so far.
While Seamus rode atop the Romney family station wagon on the way to a vacation in Canada, the dog was struck by a bout of diarrhea that resulted in fecal matter running down the windows. Romney pulled up at a gasoline station, hosed down the car, the crate and the dog, and continued on his way. That was in 1983, but the story was revived in the Republican primary campaign when one of Romney’s rivals said it pointed to character flaws.