This morning, as my husband was putting the finishing touches on his Windsor knot and preparing to head to his office, he mused aloud as he looked into the mirror. “What’s with this dog thing?” he asked himself. “Why won’t it go away?”
I knew instantly what he was referring to. We had listened to the political wonks for a couple hours last night, and on every channel --- whether MSNBC, CNN, FOX or CNBC --- the talking heads were debating not only about who’s right (or Right) on personhood and ultrasounds, Medicare and grandmothers, or Biden’s latest gaffe, but also were spinning about Mitt Romney’s former running mate, Seamus the Irish Setter.
Seamus became a household name in 2007 when Neil Swidey of the Boston Globe broke the story about Mr. Romney driving 650 miles over twelve hours with Seamus in a crate on the top of a Chevy station wagon. The story won’t go away. Here’s why, according to my banker-husband, who is about as non-politically-wonky as anybody can get and therefore is a reliable barometer of mainstream voters’ thinking:
“The dog incident is a metaphor for Romney’s inability to relate to others,” Michael says, “He can’t feel anything for animals, for the poor, for anybody.”
Agreed. Others have written as much. But maybe the story continues to have traction because on some subliminal, instinctive level people sense that something deeper is going on, something is just “off”.
Okay, maybe this is a petty question, but if you’re one among the Top One Percent in personal wealth, Governor Romney, Why were you so cheap that you wouldn’t have taken a second car? Seamus was stuck on the roof because Father Romney had stuffed one car with Ann, all the little Romneys, and all their suitcases and gear for a summer vacation in Canada. Picture what a cramped, miserable ride that must have been for twelve hours playing Olympic-level Punch Buggy and Twenty Questions. Sure, lots of us have had to endure family road trips in overloaded vehicles as drivers and passengers, so this is not to imply that anything’s wrong with the notion --- But then the rest of us don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars and lots of options at our disposal.
The story also suggests a domineering, overbearing personality on the part of the candidate. It suggests that nobody else in the family had a vote. Mitt says get in the car, you get in the car. You’re miserable, but you do what he tells you to do, and you keep your mouth shut. (Neil Swidey wrote that Father Romney only allowed one stop for a potty-break during the twelve-hour ride. This all changed when Seamus defied the master’s schedule and defiled his windshield, after which Seamus received a cold shower.) When we look at and listen to Mitt Romney, we can imagine how he could force-feed whatever he wanted onto his family and onto us if he were to become President. Voters sense his potential for bullying. Women are realizing that he really does have the sort of determination that could end up doing away with birth control.
There’s another thing about the Seamus story. Four years ago when Chris Wallace of Fox News gave Mitt Romney the opportunity to offer Americans, many of whom were outraged over the alleged abuse of a family pet, a sincere mea culpa instead Romney didn’t give an inch: He dug his heels in deeper on the grounds that he had not violated any Massachusetts law. (Advocates against animal cruelty later challenged this position.) It’s too bad that he didn’t take advantage of this opportunity to show us a softer, more humble, more malleable side. It makes voters wonder whether he is capable of admitting a mistake or saying, “I’m sorry.”
So, nearly thirty years after the Seamus incident, the dog is long gone and Ann Romney now has a horse for a pet, which would be difficult to strap to the family car. Dogs Against Romney has more than 73,000 Facebook fans, according to the Washington Post. A recent poll found that 35% of voters surveyed indicated they would be less likely to vote for Mitt Romney because of the Seamus story.
Columnist Gail Collins of the New York Times summed it up this way in a column last March: “Elect Mitt Romney and he will take the nation on the road to the future,” she wrote. “Some of us will be stuck on the roof. The rest of us will be inside singing camp songs and waiting for the day when the master plan lets us stop to visit the bathroom. Plus, anybody who screws up on the way to the future gets the hose.”