Living in rural New England with four dogs teaches important political lessons—to the dogs.
Paraphrasing a thought from Michael Oakeshott (to the extent one ever could tell what Oakeshott was thinking), politics is “the activity of attending to the general arrangements of what-the-heck.” That is, everything’s a political system. Politics exists even in lonely fields and forests where the nearest neighbor is an exercise-of-a-Second-Amendment-right away.
Out here in the woods with the O’Rourke family it’s a democratic political system. Our dogs have the franchise. They get a vote on what’s for dinner. “Not asparagus,” say the kids. “The dogs don’t like leftover asparagus.”
It’s a libertarian political system. The commander in chief herself, my wife, can’t tell our dogs what to do. Not “sit,” not “stay,” and not “roll over and play dead” unless there’s something foul nearby and they roll over and smell dead.
And it’s a conservative political system. Or, at least, it’s a political system exhibiting a prominent feature of conservatism. There’s a lot of barking at the moon.
But even the best political system contains endogenous evil. No mode of governance is safe from the public corruption of entitlement policies (canned dog food instead of dry), the private corruption of graft and spoils (those were my new shoes!), and the spiritual corruption of, for lack of a better term, Bill Clinton humping the babysitter’s leg. Politics is forever prey to ambitious egotists, officious placeholders, professional bureaucrats, frustrated authoritarians, and—where our dogs live—porcupines.
We have two Brittany spaniels, a Labrador retriever, a Boston bull terrier, and a lot of porcupines. Each dog has gotten into a porcupine. Once. Except for Pete, the Boston bull terrier.
Pete had two bad encounters with porcupines, bad enough that he had to be anesthetized for quill removal. The other dogs, under protest, will submit to having porcupine quills extracted with needle-nose pliers. But Pete is, essentially, a miniature pit bull. I commend the breed to Crips, Bloods, meth dealers, and unreformed friends of Michael Vick who live in studio apartments or otherwise lack space to exercise their pets. Not that Pete isn’t a sweet-natured dog. When I tried to pluck a quill from Pete’s muzzle he gripped my pliers-wielding thumb between his jaws and gave it the gentlest of squeezes, just a reminder that he could snap the digit like an Oscar Mayer (or Anthony mayoral campaign) wiener.
After Pete’s two bad porcupine experiences he had a much worse one in the middle of the night on a holiday weekend. Pete had to be driven 50 miles to the nearest 24-hour emergency veterinary care facility, where more than a thousand quills were removed at the cost of approximately a human kidney transplant.
Last Sunday Pete bit yet another porcupine. This time I let him wait—an unhappy but unrepentant pin-cushion sulking in his kennel—until my local veterinarian’s office opened on Monday morning.
This veterinarian is a man of sound good sense. His practice is devoted more to sporting dogs, riding horses, beef cattle, and other full citizens of the domesticated animal body politic than to gerbils, house cats, or anacondas owned by tattooed baristas.
I said to the vet, “Pete isn’t stupid. He figured out how to open the latch on the cupboard where the Milk Bones are kept and pry the lid off the Tupperware container. What’s his problem?”
My veterinarian explained that the other three dogs were bred for hunting (or, I guess, gathering, in the case of the retriever). He said, “They learned to pick their quarry. But Pete was bred for mortal combat. He learned to pick a fight.”
Porcupines do bad things. Every time Pete catches a whiff of porcupine he attacks it. Pete has been radicalized by porcupines. What defeats painful for my dog / When he became ideologue.
The other canines, like the children and their parents, understand what should be done when evil arises within our little nation-state. We’re staunch individualists, but we know we can’t always go it alone. Sometimes the right response to evil is an appeal to powerful and effective social organization, an appeal to civilization itself.
At our house, I am civilization itself—in one matter. I am powerful and effective social organization—in one way.
The matter is porcupines, the way is a 12-gauge shotgun. I’ve blasted four of the damned things so far. Once the porcupine is dead I shovel it into the tractor bucket and dump it on the ash heap of history or, actually, on the brush pile behind the barn.
And this is the political lesson that my two Brittany spaniels and my Labrador retriever would like to teach Republicans as they begin the process of choosing GOP House and Senate candidates for the 2014 mid-term elections.
Pete is addressing a Tea Party rally.