Mitt Romney has a sensitive side, after all — and that side of him has felt most wounded by attacks on his one-time, long-ago treatment of Seamus the Dog, the Romney family’s former pet. At least, that’s what he recently told Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview.
The Seamus story was first unearthed in 2007 by a reporter at The Boston Globe assigned to write a piece about Romney for a biographical series the newspaper published. By now, almost everyone knows the tale because, as Chris Cillizza put it, “Seamus is the dog who won’t die — politically, at least.” In 1983, the Romney family loaded up the family station wagon to drive from Boston to Ontario, strapping Seamus’ dog carrier — with Seamus inside — to the roof of the car. At some point on the trip, though, Seamus became ill (“he really had the runs” is how Ann Romney put it). Evidence of his sickness dripped down the window until the oldest Romney boy, Tagg, noticed it and yelled, “Dad! Gross!” Romney pulled into a nearby gas station, hosed down Seamus and the car, reinstated the dog in his carrier and strapped the carrier to the roof once more. In other words, he kept calm and carried on …
Plenty of Romney opponents have painted the episode as illustrative of Romney’s allegedly uncaring attitude — not just toward dogs, but toward everything. They’ve cited the Seamus story as evidence of Romney’s “otherness,” yet another way he’s out of touch with ordinary Americans.
But in the interview with Sawyer, Romney not only said he has been most wounded by attacks that include a mention of Seamus. Ann Romney also said Seamus “loved” trips atop the car.
“The dog loved it,” Ann Romney said. “He would see that crate and, you know, he would, like, go crazy because he was going with us on vacation. It was to me a kinder thing to bring him along than to leave him in the kennel for two weeks.”
We’ll never know whether Ann Romney is right because, you see, dogs aren’t people and are unable to express themselves by more than an occasional bark or growl. It’s not, after all, as though Seamus himself told this story to The Boston Globe reporter five years ago, bravely speaking out after enduring a horrendous ordeal. No, one of the Romney sons revealed the story — and not in an attempt to injure his father’s chances at the presidency, but in an attempt to give voters a peek at the family dynamic.
The story of Romney and his dog is even more of an irrelevant distraction from the principal issues of the campaign than Hilary Rosen’s recent comments about stay-at-home Ann — but addressing the distractions isn’t stupid. All the little, insignificant issues add up to an understanding of the principles and priorities of the presidential candidates and of voters.
The Seamus story tells us less about Mitt Romney — it really doesn’t reveal anything new, as we already knew he’s a pragmatic person — than it does about us. When did animals become equivalent to people in the eyes of the American public, such that we couldn’t fathom treating our pets in any way other than the manner in which we treat our children? I appreciate that Romney gave priority seating to his children, that he clearly thinks human beings should take precedence over animals. That he’s wounded by the attacks tells us he cared about the dog — pets have a way of wriggling into our hearts, after all — but that he did what he did in 1983 tells us his focus was where it should have been, on ensuring a safe, comfortable drive for his family.