When Gertrude Stein wrote, “I am because my little dog knows me,” she didn’t have Mickey Rourke, George W. Bush or Barack Obama in mind, but she may as well have.
This week’s Golden Globe Awards struck me for what they finally offered: some straight talk that must have made publicists cringe. Colin Farrell joked about his bad-boy past by explaining that his cold really was a cold. Emma Thompson made a crack about older actors offering discounts for those who will hire them, drawing attention to Hollywood’s inflated paychecks and age bias. Tina Fey spoke to the haters out there on the Internet, telling them all to “suck it.” And Mickey Rourke thanked his dogs—both living and dead—when he won the Best Actor award for his role in The Wrestler.
Many saw Barney as a dog that only his master could love. But Barney didn’t care. He had a circle of one.
As a dog lover myself, I hopped online to see what kind of dog Rourke had. In my mind, I pictured a Rottweiler or a pit bull. I was shocked to learn that Rourke is a Chihuahua man—his loves, Loki, Taco Bell, and Beau Jack, have played a significant role in his comeback and, seemingly, in his survival during some rather dark days. In an interview I ran across from November 2008, he said of Loki: “She’s like a giant Xanax, you know? I’m not going to get religious on your ass, but I truly believe God created dogs for a cause. They are the greatest companions a man could ever have.”
I’m quite certain that George W. Bush would agree with Mickey Rourke on that account. In one of the more frank moments of a very frank press conference, Bush warned Obama on Monday that his friends would, at times, disappoint him. As high as Obama is flying today, over the next four or eight years, I’m sure Bush will be proven correct. And that’s where the dog comes in. Dogs never disappoint you.
Bush would know. His dog, Barney, was hopelessly devoted to him during my time at the White House. That devotion did not extend to his White House staff. Most of the staff members saw a lot more of Barney’s ornery side than his cuddly side. And whether they admitted it or not, many saw Barney as a dog that only his master could love. But Barney didn’t care. He had a circle of one, and when a public performance was asked of him, he never disappointed with his annual holiday “ Barney Cam” extravaganza.
Presidents and their dogs go way back. It must be something about the gravity of the office that makes a dog’s unflinching loyalty appeal to a commander in chief. In the East Wing of the White House there’s a photo display of first families and their pets. The addition of a dog to Obama’s inner circle is wise. Thank goodness his daughters won that debate. And not that Obama is looking for my advice, but I have some for him anyway: Bring home the dog, already. Labrador-poodle mix or Portuguese water dog—either way: Take the plunge. It will be hard at first. Your socks will disappear from your laundry. Your meals will be interrupted by his pleading eyes. He will pee in the house even though you just took him out. He will want to play when you want to sleep. He will eat things he’s not supposed to eat. You will find yourself in the animal emergency room with him from time to time, and you will realize you’re like all the other pet owners in America—praying to God that the light of your daughters’ eyes comes through OK because now that he’s part of the family, you can’t remember life before him. And even after all these inconveniences, he will still be the creature who demands the least of you and gives the most.
Even though you have a million people ready to take responsibilities off your hands, don’t hand off Fido. Rub his belly. Let him sleep with the girls. Take him out in the morning and enjoy watching the sun light up the Washington Monument while he does his business. I know it’s hard to imagine right now with the entire nation—Democrats and Republicans—pulling for you, but trust me on this one. As the enormity of the office you are about to assume sets in next Tuesday, you will appreciate the precious gift of a little dog who knows you.
Nicolle Wallace served as a senior advisor to the McCain-Palin campaign from May to November 2008. Prior to joining the McCain campaign, she worked as a political analyst at CBS News. She served George W. Bush as an assistant to the president and director of communications for the White House from January 2005 to June 2006, as communications director for President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, and as special assistant to the president and director of media affairs at the White House.