Dog War after action report: why didn't the media know Obama ate dogs?

Observing the strange, and hilarious, Dog War that briefly roiled the American political landscape from across the pond, Tim Stanley at the UK Telegraph asks a simple but pertinent question: “Why did it take the mainstream media so long to discover that Barack Obama at a dog?”

The idea that a future President of the United States could calmly eat one is bad enough. That he would so casually record the incident in a memoir is even worse. What does this guy do in the next chapter? Go whaling?

But the really big question here is why didn’t we know about this earlier? Like me, I’m sure many journalists just didn’t get far enough in to Dreams from My Father to spot the faux pas. If you could grind that book down and bottle it, you’d have a cure for insomnia. Couple it with a couple of grams of Edward Heath’s autobiography and you’ve got an elephant tranquilizer.

But given the mainstream media’s intense study of Romney’s life and its constant regurgitation of its many errors, it’s odd that this shaggy dog story slipped through – especially given that Dreams from My Father has been gathering dust on the bookshelves since 1995.

Speaking of regurgitating errors, Stanley renders the Romney side of the Dog War battlefield as follows:

The Romneys were driving up to Canada for a family holiday, so they stored Seamus in a crate on the car roof. Understandably nervous, the poor pooch lost bowel control on the freeway and Mitt had to pull over and wash it all off with a hosepipe. Golly, I’ve written and read that story so many times I almost feel like I was there.

Ann Romney explained on ABC News that Seamus got sick because he ate turkey off the counter, not because he was terrified of riding atop the car.  That’s part of the serious problem that underlies the goofy humor of this little sideshow, which Stanley is otherwise quite perceptive at noting. 

The point of the exercise, for Team Obama – which, let us never forget, was very serious about pounding Romney with the Seamus story, because they were worked into a lather by focus group studies that showed it hurt his likeability ratings – was to plant these little viral memes into the public consciousness.  You were supposed to roll into November thinking that Mitt Romney cruelly strapped his dog to the roof and made him sick.  That was meant to become a detail that “everybody knows,” without quite remembering where they heard it.

And that’s why this whole episode is such a hideous disaster for Team Obama, because now the one thing everyone will remember is that Obama ate a dog.  It’s hardly the sort of thing that will turn an election, and it’s not logically relevant to his performance in office… but the Obama campaign wasn’t planning on running with logic and facts.  Their entire effort is based on creating total public amnesia over the period 2009 – 2012, and making the election about “likeability,” an area where Obama is thought to hold the advantage.

Not to get overly enthusiastic about the Mitt Romney cuddle factor, but the Obama campaign’s likeability calculations were always suspect, particularly given the ugly, divisive edge they’re shooting for in their re-election effort.  They’re also underestimating the hit Obama’s charisma will take from his endless finger-pointing and scapegoating.  You can only declare so many Two Minutes Hates before the public stops thinking of you as a nice young man. 

That’s one of the lessons to be drawn from Obama’s equally disastrous War on Stay-at-Home Moms, which grew from a bungled class-warfare attack.  News flash: the class warfare attacks aren’t making Obama seem any more lovable, either.  When Ann Romney finally met the public and won many hearts, the damage to Obama’s manufactured narrative became critical.  That’s why the only person besides conservative weimaraners – oops, sorry, I meant “wisenheimers” – happy about the outbreak of the Dog Wars was Hilary Rosen, and maybe the exhausted Democrat operatives who have been furiously working to scrub her from the pages of history.

Stanley’s basic question about the apparent media ignorance of what is actually contained in Dreams From My Father is a great one, and the answer is almost as funny as the wave of “Obama eats dogs” jokes.  Nobody in the media actually read the darn thing.  They cited only the passages the Obama campaign team sends to them in press releases.  They certainly weren’t interested in crawling through it to find damaging details or contradictions, the way they would examine a Republican candidate’s autobiography. 

“This constant focus on trivialities,” Stanley concludes, “might be more sufferable if it were at least balanced.  But it’s always the conservatives who are repeatedly asked ‘What would you do if your son was gay?’, ‘What newspapers do you read?’, or ‘Why do you hate black people so much?’  Yet Barack Obama – who went to the church of an anti-American radical loon, messes just about everything up and eats dogs – gets a free pass.”

That’s why the trivialities aren’t so trivial.  The “shroud of contempt,” which causes low-information voters to dismiss Republican candidates out of hand because they’re “weird,” “stupid,” “extreme,” or “cruel,” is woven one strand at a time, and very little of it has anything to do with policy issues.