First dog versus first cat

One of the current Caucus Front-Runners on The New York Times Politics Blog is entitled ‘The Search for the First Puppy.’ Obviously, in view of the response (approaching 800 comments at this hour), this is a subject that is top of mind for many readers. And with good reason.

Consider the following comment from ‘Dan,’ which appears on today’s front page:

“In the interest of reaching across the aisle, they should seriously consider also getting a kitten. Our nation is deeply divided on the dog/cat issue.”

Now you might say this is irrelevant. The campaign promise was for Mom and Dad to get the girls a puppy. In his acceptance speech, President-Elect Obama reiterated, among other outstanding issues, his determination to accept and fulfill this promise. The jubilant onlookers at Grant Park went wild. Here was the new government in action. Making good on its promises. Looking forward. Overcoming the obstacles of the status quo and heralding a transformative era of hope and change.

Dan’s comment, however, struck a chord with me, both for its simplicity and its depth of perception.

Let me say (full disclosure) that I am a confirmed dog lover. I have a deep respect for the beauty, intelligence, and independent spirit of the cat, but anybody who knows me knows that the dog comes first with me.

But even in the first flush of triumph and relief we should not lose sight of both parties’ oft repeated and fervent determination to bring our country together. After all, this is a moment in history when unity is seemingly (if only temporarily) possible.

So let us, indeed, put aside our differences, ‘reach across the aisle,’ and welcome a first cat as well as a first dog to the White House in January.

Black and white

To have my personal wellbeing, and that of so many people I know, wrapped up in the outcome of a presidential election – this is a phenomenon unprecedented in my experience.

When and why did this election become so important? It’s not just the economic crisis. It’s not just the failures of the Bush administration. There’s something else going on, something unlike all of the previous elections in which I participated.

As strange as it seems to me, I know that my personal wellbeing is teetering on the brink, and only a democratic victory will make me feel comfortable in my skin again.

What makes this election so different for me? It’s not the historical precedent – that of a presidential candidate who is half black and half white. It’s the man himself. It’s that he has a shining intelligence and a palpable empathy with the people of this country that I haven’t seen or felt since the early 60s.

I lacked maturity during the Kennedy era but I remember that I felt then, as did many other Americans, that there was something in the man that transcended the precedent that he was setting – that of being the first Catholic president. That ‘something’ was a quality in the man himself – a young man, largely untested, but with the intelligence, the charismatic appeal, and the capability to transform his time.

I haven’t felt as I did then – until now. There’s a lot riding on today’s finish. There’s a lot riding on this man who carries in his blood the divided nature of our past, and in his hands – the promise of our future.

The understudy

What does it mean for women when a female candidate for vice president of the United States spends $150,000 on clothes and sundries over a two-month period to stump for herself and John McCain?

What does it mean for women when this candidate spends $32,800 on hair and makeup over a two-week period?

What does it mean for women when this candidate’s makeup artist is the highest paid staff member on the McCain campaign?

I don’t remember reading any headline articles about Hillary Clinton’s clothing, makeup and hair allowance, and yet she is always attractive, well dressed, and well groomed.

What does it mean for women to have a candidate who may be a heartbeat away from the presidency and doesn’t understand her responsibilities as vice president?

What does it mean for women that this candidate, on multiple levels, is making a joke out of being a female contender for the role of presidential understudy?

I believe it means that Senator McCain is guilty of an enormous lapse in judgment in selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate in an effort to ‘energize’ a deflated campaign.

I also believe it means that the women of America will not be seduced into voting for a presidential candidate simply because his running mate is a woman.

Senator McCain may not know this but most women are not only perceptive and intuitive when it comes to politicians but also knowledgeable, savvy, and immune to tactics aimed at the gullible and the ignorant.

Identity theft

This week’s New Yorker magazine cover, called ‘The Politics of Fear,’ with a triumphant Barack and Michelle Obama standing in the Oval Office dressed up in and surrounded by the accoutrements of extreme right-wing fear and terrorism is, to put it mildly, tasteless.

I choose to put it mildly because its irony is so extreme that it is hard for me to moderate my reaction to it. In my opinion it goes so far that it turns around on itself and attacks its own tail.

There was a time when the New Yorker was, for me, unassailable. With its unique format, its superb fiction, poetry, cartoons, and reviews (think Pauline Kael), its elegant typography and meticulous editing, it was all of a piece – including its ads, which resided side by side with content in understated compatibility.

Then it was swallowed up by S.I. Newhouse and Conde Nast Publications and began its gradual and inevitable physical transformation into a clone of every other popular magazine, initially in its ads, and eventually in the overall look and feel. Editor Tina Brown completed the demolition during her tenure in the 90s, which is when I left it behind.

What it seemed to me to retain, when I returned to it infrequently, were the sublime and utterly unique humor of its cover art, its witty and on-the-nose cartoons, its excellent (though not as plentiful) fiction, and its intelligent and principled editorial choices. Which is why I decided to welcome it into my home again.

Now I wonder what part of its anatomy will be sacrificed next to some under-considered mandate to vanquish with shock and awe. Times change. Magazines change with the times. And the New Yorker – this icon of taste, humor, and irony – is yet another victim of identity theft.

The terrier and the hound

I love dogs. When I see dogs I tend to block out the human element and focus on the four-legged personalities. Perhaps that’s why the lead-up to yesterday’s Pennsylvania primary made me think of a feisty terrier and a lanky and dignified hound.

The terrier is running just behind the hound. She is barking and confrontational. The hound ignores her and continues on his way, just wanting to get on with his business. He is, however, irritated and becoming more so as the terrier becomes bolder. But the terrier won’t stop; in fact, she is gaining ground and seems intent on getting close enough to attack.

When the terrier grabs hold of the hound’s back leg, he drags her along, still hoping to avoid a fight. But the terrier won’t let go and the hound is forced to turn and defend himself.

Who’s going to get hurt? Well, both are. And meantime there’s a white-haired and badly scarred pit bull coming towards them. He has survived abuse and mistreatment in his youth and he has a temper he can’t always control. He’s hoping they will do enough damage to each other to save him the trouble of having to deal with their combined strength and courage.

But no matter. He knows how to survive. Didn’t he prove that seven dog-years ago?

The fierce urgency of now

Last night, as I was watching and listening to Barack Obama, it occurred to me that there’s something to be said for having a poet at the helm. We have not had a poet in office since Kennedy, nor have we had a president who elicits, almost effortlessly, such enthusiasm for his words.

Obama, who was at a high school in Texas, began by answering a question he had not been asked: why was he running in this election? He is relatively young, and could wait. His answer was to quote Martin Luther King on “the fierce urgency of now.” Later, in answering a question about global policy, he quoted Kennedy, saying, “Never negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate.”

In both instances, and in his overall delivery, he was in command of his words, as is a poet, and elicited an emotional response, as does a poet.

I am not climbing off the Hillary/Barack fence because of the poetry of this man’s message. But I am acknowledging the appeal of a potential Commander in Chief of Words.