The level of political discourse surrounding this year’s presidential race has not been particularly remarkable, but it stumbled to a new low this week. Tired of the incessant liberal mockery of Romney’s terrible treatment of the family dog a couple decades ago, the Romney campaign attacked Obama this week for eating dog when he was a kid in Indonesia.
Or something like that. (I don’t feel like retrieving the exact details, which would give the dignity of more page views to news articles reporting on this nonsense.)
My Twitter feed, normally full of profound revelations of government incompetence and corruption, devolved into a stream of jokes about dog recipes. Yes, it’s kind of funny to make witty remarks about what the White House dog might be thinking, but it does nothing to advance the conservative cause. All these conservatives had been rightly mocking liberals for giving a disproportionate amount of time to a non-issue, and now they’re awash with glee doing the same thing!
But this new dose of mockery is not just a sad reflection that Romney-defending Obama attackers will stoop to the same level as Obama-defending Romney attackers; partisan banter is nothing new. There’s something more fundamental at stake here. By mocking Obama for eating dog, conservatives are betraying conservatism. The same people who attack liberals for trying to enforce their food values on others are now suggesting that it’s not OK to eat some things.
It’s like there’s an unspoken assumption among these conservatives that Obama can be attacked for eating dog because eating dog is a weird, gross thing that’s frowned upon by civilized people. If it wasn’t apparently considered a negative thing, they wouldn’t be falling all over themselves to pass around these jokes. But does this even make sense?
The principles of freedom and individual liberty would suggest that, just like everyone has the right to keep whatever animals he or she chooses, everyone also has the right to eat any animal of choice, as long as he or she acquired possession of that animal in a lawful manner. You can’t defend your right to drive an SUV and then frown upon someone else for eating a weird animal. Even if Obama did decide to stick Bo on the grill, what’s the difference between him and a conservative rural farmer who owns and eats other animals? This sudden proliferation of conservative food snobbery doesn’t just add to the worthless political conversation; it mocks the bedrock conservative principle of making your own decisions and not being influenced by the elite opinions of others.
Now maybe I’m taking this all too seriously. Can’t conservatives have a little fun? I guess. I just don’t think it’s very funny, and it’s not very useful for the political discussion. It’s not even equivalent to Romney’s incident. If you say “Obama ate a dog,” I say “What’s wrong with that?” If you say “Romney stuck a dog on the top of his car,” I’ll say, “This isn’t relevant to the presidential race,” but I won’t say, “What’s wrong with that?” This just seems like a losing battle in every way. Can’t we stick to stuff like the GSA scandal and the Cartagena hookers?
Besides, there are plenty of good reasons to attack Obama. But if the campaigns and the media and the pundits focused on substantial policies and candidate records, then voters might decide they don’t really like Obama or Romney. Better stick to the dogs…