04.23.12 12:10 PM ET
The Election Has Gone to the Dogs
In my column for CNN, I explain the real reason why both presidential campaigns are talking about dogs:
Just in case you had any lingering illusions that politics deals with substantial issues, here's the issue that last week filled our media chatter:
Which is worse - to put a dog on the roof of a fast-moving car or to eat dog-meat as food?
As you probably know, the Romney campaign has been battered for months by a story about a family vacation in the 1980s. Mitt Romney, driving his family of five boys to summer vacation in Canada, had improvised a dog cage atop the family car. He wrapped the dog cage in plexiglass to form a windbreak. The idea did not work. The dog fouled its cage and later ran away. One of Romney's sons laughingly repeated the story to a reporter years later, and ever since it has become Exhibit A in the case against Mitt Romney.
Weary of this ridiculous line of attack, somebody on the Romney campaign dug out an extract from Barack Obama's memoir, "Dreams From My Father", published in 1995.
In that book, Obama recalls that his Indonesian stepfather introduced him as a boy to the local cuisine, which included dog, snake and grasshoppers. This fact, in print for almost two decades, was dusted off last week as a new revelation in the Daily Caller website. Talk radio and conservative blogs seized on the theme. Twitter memes proliferated: #ObamaDogRecipes, #ObamaEatsDog, etc.
The line between journalism and gossip is always thin and poorly marked. When journalists cross that line, as they so often do, they invoke "larger meanings" exposed by the titillating story of the moment.
Thus, the "larger meaning" supposedly exposed by the dog-on-the-roof story: Romney is a heartless technocrat, ready to conduct brutal experiments on unsuspecting people or beasts and who only laughs if the experiment does not go well for the subject/victim.
And thus too the "larger meaning" seen by partisans inside the Obama-eats-dog story: Obama is an alien, raised in alienation from basic American values, and protected by a complicit news media that refuses to report embarrassing facts about him - like dog-eating.