By now, you're probably well aware of the tale of Mitt Romney and Seumus, the dog who "loved" (according to Ann Romney) to ride strapped to the top of the family car on long road trips. He loved it so much that on one such trip he shit himself profusely, causing diarrhea to stream down the roof of the vehicle. Mitt then dutifully pulled over, washed out the pet carrier—and stuck the trembling, stinky Seumus back on the roof. So goes the story, anyway.
This only resembles an important story because people love telling it so much; especially Democratic strategists and newspaper columnists. It allegedly demonstrates Mitt's cold calculus in dealing with a supposedly cherished pet; you or I or the independent swing voter would respond much more emotionally, see.
So no surprise then, that conservatives have reveled in a profuse outburst of glee after locating a passage in Barack Obama's first autobiography, Dreams of My Father:
“With Lolo, I learned how to eat small green chill peppers raw with dinner (plenty of rice), and, away from the dinner table, I was introduced to dog meat (tough), snake meat (tougher), and roasted grasshopper (crunchy). Like many Indonesians, Lolo followed a brand of Islam that could make room for the remnants of more ancient animist and Hindu faiths."So, there you have it. As a boy, around the age of 7 or 8, Obama ate some dog he was served in Indonesia. Of course it was local custom, and of course it tells us nothing about the personality of the man that erstwhile dog-eating boy would grow up to be (though conservatives are no doubt delighting in the fact that it calls attention to the fact that Obama spent time in Indonesia with—gasp!—Muslims)—except perhaps that he was polite enough to eat a dish he was served that may have seemed weird to a kid.
In a larger context, it is worth noting that eating dog in Indonesia isn't any different from eating pigs or lamb or cows. The only difference is that here in the U.S., we domesticate dogs and our culture therefore collectively cringes at the thought of consuming them. But not pigs or lambs. This is generally pretty absurd, as Jonathan Safran Foer points out at length in Eating Animals. Along the same lines, Mitt's treatment of his dog is hardly outrageous. The dog might have been scared, but it's hardly animal cruelty. It's a little weird, but big whoop.
Neither of these anecdotes would be newsworthy were the two men they concern not poised to lead the nation for the next four years. Even then, most voters will (thankfully) probably barely pay attention to either story. Ezra Klein points out that these sort of umbrage-fueled mini-narratives are largely meaningless to non-political junkies. They barely affect the polls.
So, for the sake of wisely managing your time and retaining your sanity, it's best to ignore the sillier flame wars. And If you're disgusted that Obama ate dog, perhaps you should be disgusted with yourself for eating a hamburger. If you're pissed at the way Mitt dealt with Seamus, heaven forbid you ever get a glimpse at the inside of a factory farm. A larger non-issue there could not be.