I know that the President is busily engaged in these days with the highest affairs of state, chairing a session of the UN Security Council (a first, I believe, for an American President) and then heading off tomorrow to a meeting of the G-20 in Pittsburgh, Pa. No doubt, too, if the President remains true to form, he must have “an important speech” scheduled sometime in this period, perhaps to be delivered from a window of Air Force One, thirty thousand feet above ground, to those bitter and benighted citizens of Western Pennsylvania over whom he will be flying.
Despite these pressing issues, I want to revisit this morning the more important matter of the President’s dog, Bo, less for what it says about this President or his two lovely children, than for what it says about the nature of democracy. If there is any greater proof needed of the ruling spirit of the “idea of equality” in our time than the story attached to the Obamas’ dog, I can’t imagine what it would be. It is a script taken right from the pages of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, recently referenced on this blog site in an article by the SBE (“senior blog editor), Ivan K.
Here are the facts. After a long period of suspense, the Obamas, either seeking the assistance of or acceding to pressure from, the late Senator Kennedy, a personage of enormous wealth, procured for the family pet a Portuguese Water Dog (PWD). There was good reason for a dog of this breed, as one of the Obamas’ daughters has allergies relating to dog hair (PWD’s do not shed). There was just one problem, and that troublesome little word, “breed.” Breed is an aristocratic term (think of “blue blood”), and there is no world in which the notion of “rank,” and “pedigree” plays a more conspicuous role. The whole idea of “papers,” along with lineage and exclusive clubs, like the AKC, testify to aristocratic notions. It is a world filled with snobbism. (My former dog Bel, as indomitable a “natural aristocrat” as there ever was, to use Jefferson’s terminology, lacked papers or pedigree and was excluded from many a competition that she was destined to win.)
The difficulty, of course, for the aristocratic concept is that the American public understands this world, and the vast majorities of dog owners in this land reject it, proudly preferring their mutts (and guns). Just look at the rhetoric of how most run for the presidency. They do so, where they can, by openly touting their “democratic” origins, one more than the next. To run for high office in the USA with the background of a poor, even a broken, family is clearly counted as a badge of honor. The last thing you want is to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and those who are have a real problem in somehow discounting their “papers.” Candidates like Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and Mike Huckabee all made their humble origins an important part of their personal sagas. As for President Obama, recall that on the day of his very first news conference as President, he referred to himself as a “mutt.” The context also was significant, for it came up in a query about the (then) prospective family dog. Obama gave the proper democratic response. After noting his special need on the allergy question, he went on to say that the “our preference would be to get a shelter dog,” or “a mutt, like me.”
Which brings us back to the PWD. This is an animal of breed, and a beautiful and noble one at that. Hence the need in a democracy to (somehow) soften the offense. In obtaining this animal, the White House let it be known (apart from the allergy problem) that Bo, though a dog of pedigree, was a dog that had been rejected by a previous family. This fact of rejection or abandonment, it was no doubt thought, would be sufficient to restore the animal’s democratic credentials. Perhaps. But I have it on a wholly reliable source from the dog world that this was a pure “cover story.” The dog was not really abandoned, but being properly trained—I hope according to the splendid regime spelled out by Xenephon in his treatise on dogs.
To complete the narrative, the President apparently redeemed his initial promise to get a shelter dog by making a contribution to the DC Humane Society. A bit like a carbon offset. Noblesse Oblige.