Clayton: Just let politics go to the dogs (column)
June 18, 2016
I'd like to name my next dog "Obamacare."
I live in one of those mountain towns that are both politically conservative and dog-crazy. So I think it would be fun to walk the dog around town and have my neighbors say, "Good dog, Obamacare," and "I just love Obamacare." Obamacare's very presence would make people smile.
Assuming I was able to successfully train the dog, people might say, "Obamacare does exactly what you need!" and "Your life with Obamacare must be so much easier than it was before," and "I wish everyone could live with Obamacare."
Granted, some folks might make pointed comments. "How did you figure out the software program to get that dog?" or "Does she have litter-mates named Marx and Lenin?" or "Are my taxes paying for her dog food?" They might make comparisons between my dog and her namesake: "This dog at least I think I can understand" or "Maybe it was this dog that the Supreme Court meant to affirm," or "Around here, it may feel like dog ownership is mandatory but there isn't an actual law."
But if anyone was tempted to be mean to her because of her name — to say they wanted to drown her in the bathtub because that's what some people think the federal government needs — everyone would be horrified at the thought: "She's a dog. We love dogs!"
Of course, the trend could come back to bite me. Other people might retaliate by naming their dogs Koch Brothers or Agenda 21 or National Rifle Association. I'd end up saying things like "Coal Lobbyist is so sweet and cuddly" or "Military Spending may sound ferocious, but I can just see the love in her eyes," or "Here, Clear-cut! Right here!"
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But would that be such a bad thing? For people — including me — to be forced to acknowledge the good in political ideas that we don't like? I'm self-employed with a pre-existing medical condition, which means that Obamacare has been, on balance, good for me. I admit it certainly has plenty of problems, but at least I'm allowed into the marketplace for coverage and don't have to live with an emergency room as my only recourse. But because we so often conduct political debates in abstract, theoretical terms, few people get to hear my story. Nor do I get to hear enough of the personal stories of my neighbors who support gun rights, a hard line on immigration or extractive industry development.
Thus my dream for this dog-names proposal: to use our loving companions to help tear down the walls we build between us with ideological politics. Yet the sad truth is that I might fail, causing ideological politics to contaminate yet another aspect of life.
I want to live in a world where I can be open with or even befriend people with whom I disagree. We might not share political views, but maybe we can bond over our mutual love of basketball or mountain scenery or softball or dark beer or music or technology or art or literature. Or dogs. These days, contentious political ideologies invade so much of our shared social experience — our Facebook posts and our bumper stickers, the media we consume and the opinions we feel compelled to proclaim everywhere — that it's hard to get past the politics and find those bonds. So, unfortunately, I'm afraid that if I named my dog after a political cause, I'd probably just make the situation worse.
I have fond memories of my first dog and the way people responded to her name – Aretha. Aretha Franklin is still truly the queen of soul, a unique and talented lady. So maybe my next dog should follow that tradition and be dubbed Nina Simone or Billie Holiday. By naming a dog after a soulful artist, I'd still be expressing an individual passion but wouldn't threaten a soul. Think of it as more wag than bark.
John Clayton is a contributor to Writers on the Range, an opinion service of High Country News (hcn.org). He and his current dog Musetta live in Red Lodge, Montana, where he is the author of The Cowboy Girl and other books.
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