Gone to the Dogs: A History of Canine Controversies in Presidential Politics

From falsehoods about FDR's Fala to Barney Bush's brutish bites, this is hardly the first time pooches have taken over the story.

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For a certain stripe of person, bemoaning the sorry state of American politics in the Twitter age -- or the Internet age, or the cable television age, or the television age, or the radio age, or the telegraph age -- is a favorite pastime. Back in the days of yore, they tut-tut, the United States focused its energies on real issues, not sideshow distractions.

Those people have been emboldened this week, as the political world has focused on dogs. It all started with months (though it feels like years) of Gail Collins columns about Seamus, the Irish setter who Mitt Romney (in)famously put in a kennel on the roof of the family station wagon for a lengthy road trip to Canada. What somehow went overlooked until this week was an anecdote in Barack Obama's memoir Dreams From My Father that recounted his experience eating dog while a young child living in Indonesia. Suddenly, Romney supporters had the ammunition to return fire -- a chance they took with great gusto. It was, Very Serious People agreed, a new low.

Except that of course it wasn't. History suggests that George Washington was able to separate dogs from politics, but then again, he was unable to tell a lie. Many of his predecessors have found it easier to prevaricate, and they've also gotten embroiled in inane canine controversies themselves. From a possible Soviet spy dog to a diabolically named presidential pooch, dogs have been fodder for political smears for as long as they've been an integral part of the American experience -- which is to say, for ever. Here are a few of the most amusing instances.

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David A. Graham is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers political and global news. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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