Does the dog story matter?
The white Chevy station wagon with the wood paneling was overstuffed with suitcases, supplies, and sons when Mitt Romney climbed behind the wheel to begin the annual 12-hour family trek from Boston to Ontario……
Before beginning the drive, Mitt Romney put Seamus, the family’s hulking Irish setter, in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon’s roof rack. He’d built a windshield for the carrier, to make the ride more comfortable for the dog.
The ride was largely what you’d expect with five brothers, ages 13 and under, packed into a wagon they called the ”white whale.”
I want to pause to note the various details that make it clear that this car was a large station wagon, and not a compact car that might make packing a large dog in it truly impossible.
As the oldest son, Tagg Romney commandeered the way-back of the wagon, keeping his eyes fixed out the rear window, where he glimpsed the first sign of trouble. ”Dad!” he yelled. ”Gross!” A brown liquid was dripping down the back window, payback from an Irish setter who’d been riding on the roof in the wind for hours.
As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway. It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management.
It’s always tough to know how to take these stories. On one hand, they feed the cult of personality built up around politics that has become rather toxic in the past few decades. On the other hand, behavior like this can also be a remarkable, easy-to-understand symbol for a candidate’s larger worldview and approach to the world. True, there’s a number of examples of people who were great liberals, policy-wise, but absolute monsters in private. It doesn’t always follow that someone who is an unempathetic asshole will automatically be a bad leader. But as a symbol of the conservative worldview, strapping a dog to a car roof for 12 hours, and then simply hosing him down when he shits himself, but then pointing to a “windshield” as evidence that you’re not a total monster? If it were a novel, you’d be indicating that the character was an irredeemable monster, with no self-awareness to boot. In real life, it works well to encapsulate the way the strict hierarchies of conservatism play out. When talking to voters, making it clear that Romney is the kind of guy who thinks dogs should be strapped to cars and then basically ignored until it’s time to take them out and play with them again could help boil a complex message down to a simple one.
Read the rest of this post at Pandagon.