During a campaign stop this week in Reno, Nev., Hillary Clinton made some Internet when she joked it would be a good idea to train a dog to bark at GOP presidential candidates whenever they say something untrue. Recalling a radio ad that ran in rural Arkansas during her husband’s old campaigns there, in which a dog barked whenever a candidate lied, Clinton called for an updated version: “I’m trying to figure out how we can do that with the Republicans. We need to get that dog and follow them around, and every time they say these things — like ‘oh, the Great Recession was caused by too much regulation — ARF ARF ARF! You know? I think we could cut right through a lot of their claims.”
Republican front-runner Donald Trump quickly mocked Clinton’s quip. “Hillary Clinton is a joke. . . . I’m watching television, and I see her barking like a dog. She’s barking like a dog. And everyone says, ‘oh, wasn’t that wonderful, wasn’t that wonderful, isn’t that cute, isn’t that great?’ If I ever did that, I’d be ridiculed all over the place!”
A meaningless skirmish on the campaign trail? No doubt. But the episode brings to mind what Clinton has called “the talking dog syndrome” in American politics — when people are impressed that women are able to express themselves well in public. In her 2003 memoir, “Living History,” Clinton recalled speaking before a joint session of the Arkansas House and Senate in the early 1980s to make her case for school reform during her husband’s tenure as governor:
For whatever reason — probably a combination of skills and lots of practice — public speaking has always been one of my strong suits. I laughed when Representative Lloyd George, a legislator from rural Yell County, later announced to the assembly: “Well, fellas, it looks like we might have elected the wrong Clinton!” It was another example of a phenomenon I call “the talking dog syndrome.” Some people are still amazed that any woman (this includes Governors’ wives, corporate CEOs, sports stars and rock singers) can hold their own under pressure and be articulate and knowledgeable. The dog can talk! In fact, it’s often an advantage if people you hope to persuade underestimate you at first. I would have been willing to bark my whole speech in order to guarantee education reform!
In the memoir, Clinton writes that she once again encountered the phenomenon a decade later, when early in the Clinton administration’s efforts to reform health care she testified before House and Senate committees in Washington:
I was happy to have had the chance to speak publicly about our plan and pleased that the reviews were generally positive. Members of Congress applauded the testimony and, according to news reports, were impressed that I knew the intricacies of the health-care system. This gave me hope. Maybe my testimony had helped people understand why reform was so vital. . . . While many members genuinely appreciate the finer points of the health care debate, I realized that some of the laudatory responses were just the latest example of “the talking dog syndrome,” which I had learned about as First Lady of Arkansas. . . . Much of the praise centered on the fact that I hadn’t used notes or consulted my aides and that I generally knew my stuff.”
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