Politics has been going to the dogs for a long time; now it is really going to the dogs. Literally.
The latest example of canine politics, ably chronicled by Prop Zero contributor Kevin Riggs with an accompanying photo gallery, was the statewide campaign tour by Sutter Brown, California’s First Dog, to promote a “pet lovers” license plate.
There’s no doubt that the frisky corgi goes a long way in humanizing a sometimes cool and aloof Governor Jerry Brown. In today’s “dog-eat-dog” political environment, the Sutter-Jerry “bromance” stands out.
Dogs have long been used to help humanize politicians. During the 1944 Presidential campaign, Republicans spread the rumor that FDR’s Scottie, Fala, had accidentally been left in the Aleutian Islands on a presidential visit — and that FDR ordered a Navy destroyer to retrieve the dog at taxpayers’ expense.
The President responded indignantly in a national radio address, which immortalized the relationship between the President and his”little dog, Fala” and drove Roosevelt’s GOP opponent nuts!
“I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself,” FDR protested. “But I think I have a right to resent, to object, to libelous statements about my dog!”
In 1952, Vice-Presidential candidate Richard Nixon used the family’s cocker spaniel, Checkers, to blunt charges that Nixon had misused a fund established by supporters to reimburse him for political expenses.
Relating how someone had sent the dog as a gift for his daughters, Nixon looked determinedly into the TV camera and vowed, “I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it.”
The now famous “Checkers speech” resulted in an outpouring of public support for the embattled Nixon.
Bill Clinton’s chocolate lab, “Buddy,” was embraced by the beleaguered President during his scandal-ridden White House years.
Presidential press secretary Mike McCurry joked that Clinton got the dog because "it's the president's desire to have one loyal friend in Washington."
Sometimes things don’t go so well for politicians and their pets. President Johnson was often seen with his beagles, Him and Her. But when the camera caught LBJ pulling Him up by his ears, it didn’t look warm and fuzzy.
Then this vitriolic Presidential campaign gave us Shamus-gate and the uproar over Mitt Romney’s strapping his Irish setter on top of the family’s station wagon.
The “Dog Wars” began, with the Romney campaign excoriating President Obama for eating dog meat as a child; that sparked all kinds of internet chatter and sent faux dog meat recipes exploding over Twitter.
“Eggs rover easy,” anyone?
Today’s political pups help their people look tech savvy—a must for the modern pol. Pres. George W. Bush’s Scottish terrier, Barney, “produced” his own films for his White House home page.
Bo, the Portuguese waterdog given to the Obama girls by the late Senator Ted Kennedy, is an internet hit as a fundraiser for “Pet Lovers for Obama.”. And he has his own photo gallery on the White House web site.
Sutter has a Twitter account and @Sutter Brown has merchandise for sale on-line. (Proceeds go to the state’s General Fund to help close our budget deficit!)
As Governor Brown tries to negotiate difficult budget cuts with legislative Democrats who resist having their constituents harmed and Republicans who won’t cooperate at all, he’s smart to rely on Sutter’s “bipawtisanship” to help him reach out.
Perhaps California’s First Dog will prove, once again, President Truman’s adage: “If you want a friend in Washington [and Sacramento, too], get a dog.”
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe is senior fellow at the USC Price School of Public Policy and the political analyst for NBC4.