Thursday, April 16, 2009

The new 1st dog--and the public's right to comment

Portugese Water DogImage by mrs.McD via Flickr

The furor over Bo, the Portugese Water Dog puppy who has moved into the White House, continues in dog blogs across the internet. I read a number of dog blogs, but I've only permitted myself to comment on a couple, including Horst Hoefinger's posts at Dogster's For the Love of Dogs blog.

Yesterday, Hoefinger posted:

“However, when President, then Senator, Obama made the decision to announce at a public news conference that the family was looking at shelters it changes everything. Their private decision was no longer private, they invited the public in.”

The craziness of this statement takes everything I learned in journalism about public figures and the rights of the public and turns it on its ear. When I learned those things, the idea that the PUBLIC had a right-to-know was much more narrowly drawn than it is today--and the idea that the public had a right to vote on personal actions of public figures didn't even come up. Public opinion was important--but not definitive. Public figures could still preserve SOME privacy regarding solely private affairs. Hoefinger's post prompted my comment:

"Huh? How exactly? If the situation were reversed, would YOU let total strangers force your hand or narrow your choices in this decision? Would this furor even be happening if he’d promised the kids a gerbil or a goldfish?

"The US President is a public figure–which makes the public privy to a lot of stuff they normally wouldn’t know about the guy. Still, just because we are treated to a day-by-day of a lot of his moves doesn’t give us counselor status. Just because a public figure discusses a decision his family is considering does NOT ‘invite the public in’ to the decision-making process. We don’t get to vote on where he sends his kids to school, which color ties he picks…or what kind of family pet they choose and where that pet comes from.

"How incredibly presumptuous to think that public interest groups should even be invited into the discussion, much less that the president should listen to the viewpoints of thousands of strangers with their own agendas above the interests, needs and preferences of his own family regarding their family pet!"

In the previous day's blog, Hoefinger's post and the comments it generated (mainly) expressed their angst that the Obamas didn't select a shelter pet. But I'd like to highlight here one of the smartest comments I've seen about the entire discussion, from a person I've never met who signed herself PoundHoundMom. This comment was so sane that I'm going to quote it:

"My first dog was named Bo and I got him at a shelter. I loved him dearly and have missed him every day for nearly 4 years.

"That said … come on people, get over this Obama should have gotten a shelter dog. He promised his **daughters** a dog, not the entire country. This is a personal decision and for crying out loud, he’s the president of the United States. Exactly when is he supposed to go to a pound and pick out a dog? And think about it … even if he did choose shelter dog, can you imagine the people who would crawl out of the woodwork with lame ass stories about how it’s their dog?

"People, a dog has a home. Two little girls have their wish. Perhaps they will have many dogs in their lifetime and perhaps they’ll adopt from a shelter.

"But for now, two kids and a dog have begun a wonderful life together. Don’t take it away from them with stupid talk about how disappointed you are that the president didn’t adopt from a shelter."

He promised his daughters a dog, not the entire country. Man, I wish I'd said that! Very well done, PoundHoundMom.

For those who can't tell the difference--there are bits of info we receive each day which are FYIs, little things which we can use or disregard in our daily life but over which we have no decision-control-power. They will happen as noted without our input. There are also bits of info we receive which will not progress to the next stage unless we do something--vote, express an opinion, take action. When I shared with my parents that I'd bought a new car, I was giving them information so that they'd recognize me when I drove up in a green VW 412 instead of an old blue Monte Carlo. I wasn't asking them what they thought about VWs, 412s, or even whether I should buy a new car--I was merely giving them a bit of FYI about something that was going to happen regardless of their input.

President Obama was giving us all little FYIs in his announcements and updates about the choice of the family pet--this was something that was going to happen. It was not notice-of-need/right-to-vote, or even notice to express an opinion. Sure, the public expresses its opinions, all the time. But there's simply no right-to-vote--or even a legal right-to-comment--granted by the US Constitution regarding every little thing our President does, including his family's choice of a pet.

A blog? Well, that's different. We write, we put our bits of opinion and info out there, and if comments are permitted to the blog, then we're INVITING comment. So if Barack Obama blogged about his family's pet considerations, and asked for input, things would be different. Since I'm blogging about this, you're more than welcome to comment on *my* thoughts--as long as you're willing to leave your name and stand up for your opinions (no anonymous comments, please.)

It's high time we remember that an FYI from a public figure isn't an automatic invitation to comment on their actions, express our opinions or expect that we get a vote.

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  1. Anonymous6:10 AM

    I've always really liked Spanish water dogs. Had never seen a Porguguese one until now.

  2. Az, the main difference in the states between the two breeds is that the PWD has been recognized since '83, and the SWD is still in the Foundation Stock Service (a listing service for breeds which are rarer in the states.)

    Here, the PWD is part of the Working Group; the SWD has been classified in the Sporting Dogs group. Both breeds are surely related and developed in parallel separated only by distance between Spain and Portugal.

    Here's the Portie standard:

    Here's the AKC's Spanish Water Dog page:

    I love PWDs; I've had a few in my classes and they're a lot of fun to work with in the right ACTIVE home.


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