Mitt Romney has a palindrome problem. In case you happen not to know what a palindrome is, it’s a word or number which reads the same from left to right as it does from right to left. In Governor Romney’s case, the problematic palindrome is Dog/God.
Of course, the “dog” is Seamus, a family pet which the Romney’s took on vacation 25 years ago, riding in a dog carrier, strapped to the top of their station wagon. To me, the amazing thing about this story is that anybody cares!
How is it that everybody from political opponents Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney to comedian David Letterman and journalist Gail Collins are getting so much traction with a totally irrelevant story? We are at war in two foreign countries, have unemployment topping 8 percent, a growing debt and deficit problem, and this story continues to grab our attention. Clearly, something deeper is going on.
However much anyone cares about dogs, and contrary what some people say, dogs are not people too. There is nothing obviously cruel or foolish about what the Romneys did, and that is coming from someone who likes dogs and values my own religious tradition’s mandate to care for animals.
The Seamus story, like God, the other half of Romney’s dog/God palindrome problem, is not so much about either the dog or God as it is about us --American voters. We like to see ourselves in our candidates. We like to identify with them as people, and not only with their political positions.
As Romney detractor and Alabama marketer, Scott Crider, who founded Dogs Against Romney remarked, “It really says this guy is not like us and is mean.” Without commenting on the oddness of founding a group which promotes the notion that dogs either have political views or that humans should care, Mr. Crider’s quote says it all.
After all, to claim that Mr. Romney is mean, no matter how objectionable Crider finds this one action makes no sense. So, it all boils down to the fact that Mr. Crider distressed that Mr. Romney is not like him. And the same can be said for the ongoing questions about Mr. Romney’s Mormonism.
Simply put, one could draw out almost as many meaningful theological distinctions between evangelical Christianity and the Roman Catholic faith of candidates Santorum and Gingrich, as one could between any of those traditions and the Mormon faith followed by Mitt Romney. So why don’t voters do so? Because however different those traditions may be, most Americans have come to see all but the latter as ones with which they can identify, even if they don’t always agree.
The dog/God problem is about what might be called the “folksy factor,” and that continues to be Mr. Romney’s real challenge. It might be wise however, for American voters to step back and place less stock in the candidate with whom they can personally identify, asking themselves instead who really has the best chance of meaningfully moving the country in the direction they would like to see us head.
I am not endorsing Mitt Romney for president. But I am endorsing an end to using irrelevant pet stories and unfounded fear of someone else’s faith as a substitute for the serious debate we need about what that direction should be, and how we get there --whether it’s in a roof-top carrier or not.