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A Dog and Some Demagogues

Rin Tin Tin Lamp (photo: puuikibeach)

Rin Tin Tin might be the ideal American: rugged enough but loyal and loving; a devoted friend and embodiment of empathy; a loner committed to community. As Susan Orlean writes in her new book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, the super-shepherd…

…was an idea and an ideal – a hero who was also a friend, a fighter who was also a caretaker, a mute genius, a companionable loner. He was one dog and many dogs, a real animal and an invented character, a pet as well as an international celebrity.

Forgive me for waxing nostalgic over the qualities of a dog I knew as a 3-to-9-year-old from television series. But as someone who must watch our contemporary political would-be heroes – more tinhorn runts than Rin Tin Tins — I gotta find some hope where I can find it.

It pains me to have to listen when Cindy Jacobs, a self-proclaimed prophetess and a force behind Rick Perry’s campaign prayer meeting (“The Response”) earlier this summer, says my home state is cursed because its indigenous people were “cannibals, you know, and they ate people.”

My ears perk up against my will when I hear Michelle Bachmann say carbon dioxide is harmless and a new HPV vaccination causes mental retardation.

When Rick Perry continues to deny climate science as our state burns up, curse or no curse, I have to try to fit Perry into some kind of coherent frame of reference. Needless to say, it’s a hopeless search. Perry is walking, talking evidence against evolution.

And another thing about Perry. I think he’s blowing the debates because he’s putting all his energy into puffing out his chest. He’s wearing suits cut to extend the width of his shoulders, and I think his recent back surgery requires a brace. Maybe he’s also wearing some kind of Hollywood chest expander thingy. Whatever it is, it’s not him, and I think it’s costing him focus.

Pop quiz: name the last time an American elected official performed a selfless act on behalf of the country, or, for that matter, on behalf of anyone else?

See, that’s why I pine for Rin Tin Tin.

Now, Americans perform selflessly toward others all the time. They rush into burning homes to save children. They put their lives on the line in the military. They devote their lives to healing. They devote their lives to teaching even as right wing demagogues blame them for everything from teen pregnancy to global economic crises.

Somehow, that ethic isn’t represented in the political sphere. One reason for that is that in the political world only one thing matters: winning. Among their peers and the peeping pundits of politics, a politician is measured only by winning election and re-election. If they lose because of some selfless act, they’ll be branded a loser and get no credit for the good they did.

It’s the only quality by which they are measured. As whole states catch fire and cities are wiped out by extreme hurricanes, they don’t touch the issue of climate change because it might lead to an election loss.

Even those who enter politics for noble reasons fall victim to what is, I think, a real-world curse. The reduction of political success to this single marker is behind a good deal of today’s deteriorating public life and its consequences for life on earth.

I’d swap all our demagogues for just this one dog.

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Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith