Before beginning the [12 hour] drive, Mitt Romney put Seamus, the family's hulking Irish setter, in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon's roof rack. He'd built a windshield for the carrier, to make the ride more comfortable for the dog.
As the oldest son, Tagg Romney commandeered the way-back of the wagon, keeping his eyes fixed out the rear window, where he glimpsed the first sign of trouble. "Dad!" he yelled. "Gross!" A brown liquid was dripping down the back window, payback from an Irish setter who'd been riding on the roof in the wind for hours.
As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway. It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management.
Cox had the same reaction I did, and that I suspect many of you had:
Unless by "emotion-free" you mean, "the kind of cold fish who could feel no emotion about strapping his dog to the roof of his car." As for a preview to his "crisis management." Well, wow: Hosing down the dog and the car! Friggin' genius! ... No wonder he saved the Olympics!
In all seriousness, because it bears repeating, the truly out-of-the-box solution he hit upon here is strapping his dog to the roof of his car. Who else thought this little story would end with the dog not crapping itself but, you know, dead?
First of all, there is something wrong with the globe reporters, Neil Swidey and Stephanie Ebbert, that they heard this story and thought it was an amusing and homey example of manly problem solving. To Romney and to them, the problem was that the dog crapped on the car, not that the dog was terrified into incontinence. Once the dog's bowels were empty and the windows were clean, the problem was solved. The family hit the road with the dog still terrified and now also wet and shivering. To Romney, Swidey, and Ebbert, that was a satisfactory solution.
I think most people will have no problem seeing the indifference to life and suffering that this anecdote reveals. Others will make a connection to Bill Frist's cat killing and Dick Cheney's canned hunts.
Is this sort of callous attitude a Republican or Conservative trait? I'll argue yes. I think it comes as part and parcel with the conservative style of gender construction. In their world view, sentimentality is seen a feminine trait and masculinity is as much defined as a lack of feminine traits as it is defined by any positive traits. Regular displays of nonsentimentality and active brutality are necessary for leaders to reassure conservative followers that they are masculine enough to deserve to lead.
This attitude is perfectly clear among the right wing bloggers who applaud torture and call for murderous and indiscriminate retaliation whenever something goes badly in the war. This attitude is inevitably framed by them as "being tough enough to do what needs to be done."
Romney's defenders will, of course, claim he wasn't wantonly cruel ("why, they loved that dawg") and that it was just a case of bad judgment--which defeats the purpose of telling the story in the first place. Unfortunately, it isn't the only example of brutality that we have on Romney's part. Last year, forty years after the only time he went hunting, Romney suddenly felt the need to join the NRA and go on a canned hunt for quail with major donors. Hunting played no part in his life, but he had no problem shooting trapped birds if that would impress a voting constituency. Killing was just a campaign prop, no different that putting on a funny hat and eating fried ethic foods on a stick at the county fair.
Just to be clear, hunting isn't the issue with me. I'm a Westerner who has lived my entire life among hunters and eaten plenty of game meat. I do have an issue with canned hunts, which I think are nothing more than killing for fun. No actual hunting is involved. What Romney did is a level creepier than that. When urban people choose to hunt or do not hunt, they are making a moral decision about killing animals. As far as I can tell, Romney didn't see that there was a decision to make. The only question he appears to have asked himself was: Can I get a few donations and votes if I kill something?
Which brings us back to the dog. Romney's supporters are probably correct in saying he wasn't (and isn't) wantonly cruel. He is indifferent to pain and suffering. To the rabid blogging right and Fox News watchers, this indifference is a desired trait in leaders. He has none of that icky feminine sentimentality, empathy, or mercy. He's tough enough to do what needs to be done. To me, this is worse and far more dangerous than wanton cruelty.
Update: Coturnix just reminded me of two more datapoints in the Conservative equals cruel formula: Bush as a child blowing up frogs and Bush as governor mocking a woman whose death warrant he had signed. I think both of these support my position. The hierarchical mindset of conservatives puts ultimate power in the hands of their leaders. Power comes not from human institutions, but rather from heaven. It can be withdrawn at any time. Therefore, leaders must demonstrate their power from time to time to show that they still bear the mantle of heaven. In reality, it is a very primitive and superstitious mindset.
One other point I should have mentioned: Anna Marie Cox checked with animal rights people in Mass. and what Romney did is almost certainly against the law, but the statute of limitations has long since run out.