Monday, February 15, 2010

Et Tu, Fido?

Inexplicably, I love the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Generally, I am not a big fan of dogs. Dogs instinctively know this, which is why they always jump all over me, given the chance. (It reminds me how I never ran into a prominent Democrat when we lived in D.C. during the Clinton years, but Bob Dole death-gripped me into a photo when he was running for President. Arm, schmarm.)

Maybe I love Westminster because it's on my TV screen: I can't smell the dogs and there's no slobbering. I love that I have picked the winner more than once, with no doggy knowledge whatsoever. (If you've ever been in the Oscar pool with me when I haven't seen any of the movies, you might wonder why I don't pack it in and go to Vegas.)

But intellectually, what I really love about the dog show is this: every dog is judged for itself. The competition isn't dog-eat-dog. Instead, each dog is judged according to its own breed standards, even for best in show, when the top dogs of each group compete for the big water dish. Are you the best YOU you can be? In other words, a beagle doesn't have to try to be a poodle to get ahead. Take that, supermodels.

I went on like this, blissfully ignorant of the truth, until Sunday's New York Times shattered my illusions and exposed the money and power behind the top dogs at Westminster. Apparently, the "special" dogs are bankrolled for thousands of dollars in Dog News (no really, Dog News) advertising and name recognition.

This "helps" the judges, who have to judge so many dogs they apparently need some pointers in the right direction. As one professional dog handler remarked to the Times, "By [pros] showing up, judges seem to say, 'Thank God you're here because I don't know what to pick.'" So, according to the article, it turns out the unknown, unadvertised underdogs don't have much of a chance against the Big Dogs. Sadly, every dog doesn't have his day.

The whole situation reeks of politics, and we all know politics sometimes reeks. Outside of the dog tent, who knows what candidate corporate campaign contributions will crown top dog in the next election cycle, thanks to the Citizens United decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. Here in Cuyahoga County, corruption and (almost equally poisonous) alleged corruption have severely damaged the Democratic brand. One of the big problems in politics, nationally and especially locally, is that name recognition and familiarity often win. Not always (gObama!) but it's enough of an advantage that some aspiring local politicians will even try to change their names to get a better ballot moniker.

Let's face it, it takes a fair amount of effort to be an informed voter for local races. So, when the "pros" come in with their nice familiar-sounding name, it's easy to have the same "Thank God you're here __________ because I didn't know who to vote for," reaction (fill in the blank with your favorite local politician surname). And the voters could very well end up electing a real dog.

Those are some of the reasons why I'm signing the Statement of Values of the Cuyahoga Democrats for Principled Leadership (CDPL). The CDPL are local Democrats who want to re-energize the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, calling for ethical leadership and greater participation and transparency in party governance.

Best of all, CDPL calls for "objectivity in selecting party leaders based on qualifications and fulfillment of job responsibilities rather than on factional loyalties or control of jobs or campaign funds."

In this world of dogs and politics, that's what I call a breath of fresh air.