Ruth Marcus
Columnist March 15, 2012

Confronting conventional wisdom is the columnist’s role, even at the risk of calumny and ridicule.

So here goes: my foolhardy defense of Mitt Romney’s famous drive with Seamus the dog.

Ruth Marcus is a columnist and editorial writer for The Post, specializing in American politics and domestic policy. View Archive

The easy, split-the-difference approach would be to argue that Romney’s decision to stick Seamus in a rooftop crate has no bearing on his fitness to be president.

True, but I’ll take the plunge and go even further: I’m not much of a Romney fan, but I don’t think what he did to Seamus was so terrible.

Gulp.

The backlash started before I wrote a single word. “If you say that, you don’t love Tank,” my daughter said over breakfast when I floated this columnar trial balloon.

Tank is our dog, an overindulged mutt, who has scarcely been in a crate — he hates it and whines piteously — much less one strapped to the car roof. My daughters’ usual complaints about my relationship with Tank involve bristling about my tendency to describe the dog as “your brother” and accusations that I love him more than them.

More? No. Then again, Tank doesn’t talk back. But that’s another column.

Now that I’ve established my canine bona fides — brave, yes; foolhardy, no — back to Seamus. The dog turned up on the front page of The Washington Post after Rick Santorum’s campaign played the Seamus card on CNN.

“Particularly, I’m not sure I’m going to listen to the value judgment of a guy who strapped his own dog on the top of the roof of his car and went hurling down the highway,” said Santorum adviser John Brabender.

His comment came in response to Romney’s accusation that Santorum was “desperate,” which, if you have to stoop to a 30-year-old dog story to refute, may prove the point.

Look, the guy was in a station wagon with his wife, five kids and an Irish setter. Where, exactly, was he supposed to fit the dog?

Doesn’t the fact that Romney chose to bring the dog on the family vacation, rather than dump him in a kennel back home, suggest that he’s a dog lover, not a hater? (The only way we manage to pry ourselves away from Tank at vacation time is to leave him with Misty the Dog Walker, who lets him sleep, as he is accustomed to do at home, in her bed.)

Was sticking Seamus in a crate on the roof more cruel than shoving him in the hold of an airplane?

From my understanding of the Seamus affair, Romney took pains to ensure that a windshield protected the dog’s crate from the impact of traveling at high speeds. Granted, the unfortunate event that prompted Romney’s son Tagg to yell, “Dad! Gross!,” may suggest that the arrangement didn’t work terribly well.

Still, at least Mr. Control Freak deviated from his predetermined single rest-stop plan to hose Seamus down. As Neil Swidey, who broke the Seamus story for The Boston Globe, wrote, “Although I think it would be nuts for voters to base their presidential selection solely on this incident, it’s always struck me as a valuable window into how Romney operates. In everything the guy does, he functions on logic, not emotion.”

That sounds about right. Surely there are better arguments against Romney — from his Republican opponents and from President Obama, than this shaggy dog story.

ruthmarcus@washpost.com