Columns » John Brummett

Wags and dog tales

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I played to this audience shamelessly, enumerating my four criteria for a good community. One is to treat your dogs well. Fittingly, Vic Snyder's last dog story had a little political bite. It turns out that along with his new wife, Betsy, the Methodist preacher in Little Rock, the 2nd District Democratic congressman inherited three dogs. One of them, Riley, an English cocker, suffers some kind of neuron disorder. It causes him to behave at times like a purring cat. He growls out of context - from pleasure and happiness - when petted in a certain upper-body spot, more loudly the more vigorously he's rubbed. From this curious canine condition the congressman has designed a partisan parlor trick. He softly rubs Riley's sensitive spot and asks him what he thinks of that John Edwards, Democratic presidential runner-up. There's a light, mildly perceptible, yet clearly supportive growl. Then Vic, undetected, rubs the spot a bit more deeply while asking, "What do you think of George W. Bush?" Riley growls more loudly, disapprovingly, menacingly. That was the show-stopper the other night at "Dog Tales," at Lilly's Dim Sum Then Some restaurant in western Little Rock. Sixty or seventy people attended. Snyder called them, or us, "progressives," but you know what that's a euphemism for. We were gathered to raise money for a fence and other equipment for a dog park in Murray Park in Little Rock. There was a silent auction. The program called for the congressmen and me to go back-and-forth telling dog stories. I was under strict orders to make no one cry. My recent published eulogies to Bubba and Sissy had provided quite enough sadness for a while, I was told. So I told about how Bubba could bark not only his own age on command, but Sissy's, and about the time he found, retrieved and mutilated more Easter eggs than any of the children. I do not mean to suggest that conservatives and Republicans do not love their dogs. In fact, Gov. Mike Huckabee clearly loves Jet, and our gubernatorial shadow of his former self initially had professed a willingness to work this event into his busy schedule. But I do make the perfectly defensible and relevant cultural and political observation that there appears to be an expansive overlap in the kinds of people interested in a civic project to enhance the quality of life of the dog population and the kinds of people who'll fret about John Ashcroft. In the culture war, you're on the cultural right if you exercise your dog by violating leash laws or taking him to the woods or the water for hunting. You're on the cultural left if you go to a fund-raiser to listen to a couple of middle-aged "progressives" tell politically tinged dog stories to raise money for a doggie playground. I played to this audience shamelessly, enumerating my four criteria for a good community. One is to treat your dogs well. Another is the availability of an art-movie house. Another is to have a thriving NPR station. Finally, there is the matter of what kind of congressman you have. In that box score, I calculated, Little Rock had gone four-for-four. You're asking if I must make everything political. And the answer is that of course I must. Our society is a collection of cultural and political subsets, some overlapping. The successful politicians - those who get elected to serve and lead - are those firmly ensconced in their subsets, but who prove themselves able to cavort successfully even in nonadjoining sets. Bill Clinton, for example, as a "new Democrat." George W. as a "compassionate conservative." Vic Snyder as a physician, possessor of a law degree and a Marine veteran of Vietnam. The question I get most often these days is whether John Kerry can beat Bush. The answer is that Kerry is ensconced in his subset in Boston with Ted Kennedy and Michael Dukakis and it remains to be seen if he can perform the essential function of navigating safely and smoothly outside it.

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