In 1998, my oldest daughter, at the tender age of 2 ½, swallowed a penny. She was playing under the kitchen table, found the coin, and wondered what it would taste like. Before we knew it, that one cent was a midday snack. Fortunately, we found the penny, albeit after its natural journey through her body, and she was no worse for wear. The penny also survived intact. The story had a happy ending at a net cost of only one cent (we did not harvest the penny).
Little did I know at the time that the seed of a potential future political liability for my child had been ingested that day.
Imagine that Marra, the one who accompanied me to the New Hampshire primaries in 2007, the one who shook hands with Rudy, Huck and Hillary, is eventually bitten by the political bug and runs for office. She rightly chastises her opponent during the campaign for advocating excessive tax breaks for the wealthiest constituents who also happen to be her competitor’s major financial donors. Marra describes the appearance of trading campaign contributions for favorable tax breaks as anti-free market. Her opponent responds that Marra hates capitalism, and uses the coin swallowing story as an example. “Only someone who hated money and all the success it represents would actually eat it.”
This is the “Obama-ate-dog-as-a-6-year-old” story in a nutshell.
For those who are mercifully not yet paying attention, the GOP has responded to Democrats who have pushed the “Romney-puts-his-dog-in-a-crate-on-the-roof-of-the-car-for-long-trips” story by changing the subject to the fact that as a child in Indonesia, Obama was served and consumed some kind of canine meat. So there. Romney hates puppies because he straps them to the roof of the car for his convenience; Obama hates puppies more because he eats them for his sustenance. Eating Lassie trumps crating Lassie on the roof every day of the week.
Clearly the national discourse has gone to the dogs when serious matters of taxation, deficits, economic growth and social policy are drowned out by animal stories. This should not be surprising. We spend billions annually on our pets, buying our four legged companions all manner of beds, blankets, chew toys, foam reindeer antlers and college team sweaters. As you know, the most popular commercials during every Super Bowl telecast use animals – monkeys, dogs, cats, cheetahs. These animals are typically cute, sometimes fuzzy, and always non-partisan – until now.
The dog stories live not because we love silly animal stories, although that is partly true. Ask Disney. The dog stories live because they fit into the evolving narrative about the candidates and complement the caricatures we have created through cable news anchors and late night comedians:
· Romney is an emotionless robot, as likely as not to respond to a hypothetical debate question about spousal rape with Dukakis-like disengagement, demonstrating the depth of feeling of a shallow career technocrat. He is so unfeeling and so out-of-touch that he would strap his own family pet to the roof of his car in a crate for a 10 hour trip.
· Obama is an otherworldly stranger with a strange name, so foreign to us patriotic ‘hot’ dog eating Americans that he cannot be trusted to defend us from extinction as a free society. He is so different and mysterious that he would willingly eat man’s best friend.
Wouldn’t it be sad if these stories moved public opinion polls about each candidate? Obama and Romney both have enough assets and liabilities in the public square without resorting to dog tales to judge their relative fitness for President. The stories about their policy positions are not as fun but they could be more instructive when we head into a voting booth this November.
The penny swallowing story will stick to my daughter, the future candidate, if she has been defined by her opposition as indifferent to money. That could be an easy narrative if the oppo research reviews this blog. Yesterday while doing laundry, I found $10 in her pants pocket. She obviously forgot about it. She might just as well have eaten that $10, although a paper $10 would be much harder to retrieve after its metabolic journey. Poor Alexander Hamilton! My teenager obviously hates money or at least is indifferent to financial success (actually, it could be argued that she is actively working against MY financial success, but that is a topic for another day).
The more I recount these innocent little stories, the less likely she is to ever be elected in this country. She swallowed a penny at the age of 2 ½, she left $10 in her pants’ pocket, and she is now disqualified from a future in public service. Now you know another reason why we’ll never own a dog. Think of the unanticipated political repercussions if she somehow accidentally stepped on his tail.
My readership is well aware of the propaganda that I am pouring into my children every day. Therefore, half the country is disappointed that my daughter can never hold elective office; the other half is elated. That’s where we stand 6 months before Election Day 2012. Where will we be in 2024 when that Virginia Senate seat is there for her taking?
Penny for your thoughts.