The politics of dogs
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The politics of dogs

Washington : DC : USA | May 06, 2012 at 2:08 PM PDT
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The White House (Washington DC)

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By Perry Diaz

As a popular adage says, “A dog is man’s best friend.” And this is truer if you’re running for President of the United States because Americans are fond of having pet dogs. Study shows that one in every three Americans own dogs. Since dog owners tend to identify with one another, it is not surprising that a lot of American Presidents owned dogs, too. Twenty-five of the 42 Presidents including Barack Obama owned dogs.

I looked up www.dog-names.org.uk and gleaned interesting information about some of the dog-loving American Presidents.

George Washington owned 10 Hounds named Mopsey, Taster, Cloe, Tipler, Forester, Captain, Lady Rover, Vulcan, Sweetlips and Searcher.

Abraham Lincoln owned at least two dogs called Fido and Jip. Like his master, Fido suffered a violent death. A drunk who became angry when the dog jumped on him with muddy paws knifed Fido to death in the street.

Theodore Roosevelt owned five dogs: a Pit Bull Terrier (Pete), a Chesapeake Retriever (Sailor Boy), a Terrier (Jack), a mongrel (Skip), and a Spaniel (Manchu). Pete almost caused an international scandal when he ripped off the French ambassador’s pants during a White House function.

Franklin D. Roosevelt owned at least seven dogs: a German Shepherd (Major), two Scotch Terriers (Meggie and Fala), a Llewellyn Setter (Winks), an English Sheepdog (Tiny), a Great Dane (President), and a Mastiff (Blaze). Fala was the star of an MGM Hollywood movie about the typical day of a dog in the White House. Fala also became an honorary army private. He received this honor by contributing one dollar to the war effort setting a trend for the rest of the US.

John F. Kennedy owned a total of 12 dogs: two Welsh Terriers (Charlie and Pushinka), a German Shepherd (Clipper), an Irish Cocker Spaniel (Shannon), an Irish Wolfhound (Wolf), and three Terriers (White Tips, Blackie and Streaker). Kennedy was the first president to request that his dogs meet the presidential helicopter when the president arrived at the White House. Soviet Premier Khrushchev gave him Pushinka who was the offspring of the Russian space dog Strelka. Pushinka had four puppies of her own that JFK called “pupniks”!

Ronald Reagan owned two dogs, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (Rex) and a Bouvier des Flandres (Lucky). Reagan was photographed being dragged across the White House lawn by Lucky in the presence of Margaret Thatcher. Lucky was sent to live in California leaving just Rex at the White House.

Bill Clinton owned a chocolate Labrador called “Buddy.” The TV cameras caught him relieving himself on the carpet! Buddy was barely in the White House a month before Newsweek proclaimed, “At last, a friend who can’t testify against him.”

Barack Obama, during the 2008 presidential campaign, promised to buy a dog for his daughters, Malia and Sasha, whether he’d win the election or not. After he was sworn into office, the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy gave Obama a gift, a black-and-white Portuguese water dog, who his daughters named “Bo.”

Could owning a dog contribute to the electability of a presidential candidate? I’d say “yes” but it would depend on how the candidate relates to his dog. Two stories come to mind.

Checkers Speech

The story goes: Two months after presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower picked then Sen. Richard Nixon as his running mate at the Republican National Convention in 1952, the New York Post headlined: “Secret Rich Men’s Trust Fund Keeps Nixon in Style Far Beyond His Salary.” The article claimed that campaign donors bought Nixon by keeping a secret trust fund for his personal expenses. Many Republicans were outraged by the scandal and demanded that Eisenhower drop Nixon from the ticket.

On September 23, 1952, the beleaguered Nixon appeared on national television and radio. He defended himself saying that the fund existed but it was not a secret. He claimed that it was used strictly to cover campaign expenses and emphasized that no contributor to the fund received special treatment or favor. He then showed the results of an independent audit of his finances and also disclosed his financial history.

In the middle of his speech, he admitted receiving one campaign donation and intended to keep it for himself. He narrated how he got the gift from a traveling salesman named Lou Carrol who heard Nixon’s wife say during a radio interview how much the Nixon children wanted a dog. Carrol then sent a black-and-white American Cocker Spaniel to the Nixons, who their daughter Tricia named “Checkers.” Nixon said that if Checkers was an issue, he didn’t care. His daughters loved Checkers and regardless of what anyone said, they were keeping Checkers.

Watched by 60 million Americans, Nixon’s “Checkers Speech” led to an outpouring of public support. The Republican National Committee was bombarded with millions of telegrams and phone calls to retain Nixon as Eisenhower’s running mate. Eisenhower retained him and their ticket won in the November 1952 elections.

Dog-on-the-roof story

Sixty years later, 2012, another dog story is making its rounds in the media and cyberspace about Mitt Romney and his dog, Seamus.

The story goes: Almost 30 years ago, Mitt Romney took his wife and children and their dog, Seamus, on a 12-hour road trip from Boston to Canada. They put Seamus, an Irish Setter, in a crate -- that Romney built himself -- strapped to the car’s rooftop luggage rack. After several hours on the road, the Romneys made an unscheduled rest stop to take care of a messy problem dripping down from the car’s rooftop, which they hosed down.

Recently, Mitt Romney’s wife Ann explained during an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer that Seamus had “slimed himself and the station wagon not because he was terrified of the trucks whizzing past him on the interstate but because he'd snagged some turkey off the kitchen counter before being latched in the crate for the 12-hour drive.”

The Seamus incident, which first came out in 2007, became an issue during the 2008 presidential primary elections. A Boston Globe reporter described the dog-on-the-roof story in a seven-part series on Romney’s presidential bid, which hounded (no pun intended) Romney throughout the Republican primary season. It depicted Romney’s knack for “emotion-free crisis management.” It also said, “Picking a president is all about deciding who'll have a finger on the button for the next four years, and the last thing we need is a guy who loses his cool when the stink hits the windshield at 60 mph.”

Romney lost the primary to Sen. John McCain who then lost the presidential elections to Obama. Did it help Obama get the votes of dog lovers when he promised to buy a dog for his daughters during the campaign? Hmm…

Now, Romney is the presumptive Republican nominee for President in the upcoming November 2012 elections. Makes one wonder if the dog-on-the-roof story would come back – if it hasn’t come back yet -- to hound him.

During the recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington, DC, Obama joked, “Even Sarah Palin is getting back into the game, guest hosting on the ‘Today Show.’ Which reminds me of an old saying: ‘What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?’ A pit bull is delicious.” Doggone it!

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

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perrydiaz is based in Sacramento, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor for Allvoices.
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