The Art of Seamus (Romney)

“Artists for Obama,” a Gemini G.E.L. portfolio, has prints by nineteen prominent artists. Likely to command the most attention is John Baldessari’s Double Play: Feelings. Christopher Knight suggested the dog is an allusion to Seamus, the Irish Setter that Mitt Romney crated and strapped to the top of his Chevrolet station wagon for a 1983 family vacation (below right). In the oft-told tale, Seamus had gobbled spoiled turkey from the Romney kitchen table. En route he came down with a very liquid diarrhea. Mitt stopped long enough to hose down the dog and car. Then he got back in and kept driving.

Long-gone Seamus has cast a shadow over the 2012 campaign. “As far as Seamus the dog” is concerned, said Rick Santorum, “the issues of character are important in this election.” His insinuation was that Romney doesn’t have any character. Newt Gingrich featured Seamus in an Internet attack ad, “For the Dogs.” It makes the ingenious case that Romney would lose a debate with Obama—because of Seamus? The video ends with Romney singing a line from “Who Let the Dogs Out” to a group of black children.

A dog is visual, and visceral, as economic plans are not. Seamus inspired Bob Staake’s New Yorker cover in which Rick Santorum rides doggie-style. Devo has released a novelty single, “Don’t Roof Rack Me, Bro (Seamus Unleashed).” But the most interesting phenomenon may be the school of Seamus folk art, enabled by PhotoShop, Facebook, and manufacture-on-demand T-shirts, mugs, and bumper stickers. Many objets are being retailed via Dogs Against Romney, a website founded by Alabama liberal-entrepreneur (& oxymoron) Scott Crider in 2007. These days, everybody’s a Goya.

The weird thing is that almost no one (other than Romney) dares to say that Seamus is unimportant. In a razor-close election, trivia is important. One poll found 35 percent saying they were less likely to vote for Romney because of the Seamus incident. Neil Swidey, the journalist who broke the Seamus story, said it “always struck me as a valuable window into how Romney operates. In everything the guy does, he functions on logic, not emotion.”

The word FEELINGS in Baldessari’s print portends the metaphysical dimension of the Seamus conversation. Can anyone know what it feels like to be a dog? Does Mitt Romney (any politician)  have feelings, or is he blank inside, a Philip K. Dick android who doesn’t know he’s an android? Obama too has been faulted as aloof, and conservatives cited the fact that he sampled dog meat as a child in Indonesia.

In a survey, 63 percent of Republicans judged car-top canine transport inhumane. “It is commonsense that any dog who’s under extreme stress might show that stress by losing control of his bowels,” said PETA president Ingrid Newkirk. “That alone should have been sufficient indication that the dog was, basically, being tortured.”

Ann Romney countered that Seamus loved the crate, and Mitt insisted “my dog likes fresh air.” He also said the crate was “air-tight.” Animal lovers pounced on those words (“How does a dog breathe in an air-tight container? If it was air-tight, how did the diarrhea escape?”) Liberal bloggers tell Crategate doubters to “Google it”—for there is a nascent Seamus denial movement. American politics is Rashomon, and sometimes it’s Dogville.

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