You know the story by now, surely. In 1983, during a 12-hour drive from Boston to Canada, Mitt Romney's oldest son, Tagg, noticed something brown on the family station wagon's rear window. It was the family dog, Seamus, having a post-digestive event while in the carrier that was attached to the roof of the car.
Romney pulled the car off the road and into a gas station, where he found a hose to wash off the car and dog (although not necessarily in that order). Then Mitt put Seamus back in the carrier and hit the road again.
The story was broken rather innocently by Boston Globe reporter Neil Swidey as part of a profile of Romney in 2007. It has found its way into political coverage and dog shows and, frequently, the columns of New York Times writer Gail Collins, who has made great sport of finding ways to mention Seamus, including a whole column this week.
Also this week, a riff on the story made our new favorite cover of the New Yorker.
The tale is, first of all, kind of funny, given that Seamus survived the rest of the trip just fine. Swidey says he included it in his series because he thought it was a telling example of how Romney operates on logic, not emotion. It's also a clear illustration of Romney's not-like-us-ness, and although we might not like what that says about us as voters, it matters at least a little in the selling of a candidate. (See George H.W. Bush, supermarket scanner.)
Is it, however, a political cheap shot to keep bringing this up? There's an interesting discussion on the matter at Politico, where Democratic and Republican strategists are debating if and why the story should matter.
One interesting take, from Democratic strategist Margie Omero:
"Lots of people have a story of the safety risks they took in the 70s and 80s. So I wonder if this story actually makes Romney seem more like a regular guy than his real-time gaffes about working people."The panelists' consensus on Seamus and Romney: It's politics, and it's America. Maybe it's easier to buy into these narratives - Mitt and his dog, Gerald Ford and his clumsiness, George H.W. Bush and the checkout line - than it is to pursue the substance of candidates. Or maybe it's just a fun story.
Peter St. Onge