"Clinton needs a floppy-eared best friend"


This editorial by Michael Gartner was originally printed in November 1993 and is reproduced here with permission of the author.

Bill Clinton needs a dog.

I though about that as I sat on the kitchen floor and had a rambling farewell conversation with my dog, Finnegan. He was almost 13 years old, and everything had just given out on him. He could no longer move as he lay there. But he'd still sigh as I petted him and rubbed his ears, he's raise an eye as I talked to him, and he'd rest his head on my hand as we reminisced.

We've always had two or three big dogs at our house - a big, old chaotic place with dogs and cats and kids and grandparents and neighbors and repairmen strolling in and out - but Finnegan was always special

He was an otter hound, a 125-pound, floppy-eared, shaggy dog who seemed to have been invented by Walt Disney and trained by Dr. Spock. He looked goofy and acted smart. He more or less raised my older son, who was his loyal companion, best friend and roommate.

In the earlier years, Finnegan protected the young Christopher; in later years, Christopher - by now just Chris - cared for the aging Finnegan with a teen-ager's surprising tenderness.

Ten years ago, when Christopher was 6, the two of us took a long car trip. We talked of many things, and I asked which of our two dogs he liked best. Besides Finnegan, there was Mandy, a big, black Bouvier with clipped ears who was our family's answer to Gentle Ben.

"Who do you like best?" I asked, "Finnegan or Mandy?"

"Finnegan," he replied instantly. "Because his ears are so big you can wipe your tears on them."

At that moment, Finnegan became my favorite dog, too.

I thought about that again at 6 o'clock the other morning as I rubbed those big, floppy ears for the last time. This dog had been all you could ever ask for in a friend: entertainer, protector, comforter, listener, supporter and pillow. He was an unwavering and unquestioning and uncomplaining pal.

I had just brought in the morning paper, and I glanced at the headlines as I sat with Finnegan.

President Clinton was being fired at by friend and foe in the headlines that day, and, having been unpleasantly in the headlines a few times myself, I wondered how he dealt with it. Does he ignore the headlines? Does he let them get to him? Does he have any true friends he can turn to?

I told this to a fellow at work, and he said that Harry Truman once said, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."

Actually, I think it was another Missouri Democrat, a senator named George Graham Vest, who may have said it first in a speech in the Senate in 1884. "The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog," Vest said. "When all other friends desert, he remains."

The Clintons have that cat, Socks, but a cat won't do. We have three in our house, and they couldn't care less if you've had a bad day at work, if your son wrecked the car (yeah, that happened the same weekend, too; it wasn't a great weekend at our place), or if you just found out you need a new furnace. Cats are just for cats.

No, President Clinton needs a dog. He has a tough go ahead of him.

The medical-care fight could be awful. Some of his owns pals and pols deserted him on NAFTA. He's in a real box on foreign policy. This month's election returns bode ill.

President Clinton needs a dog.

And the way things are going, I recommend a big dog with floppy ears. For he may need to wipe some tears.