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Not Quite a Dog Fight

Politics meets the Westminster Dog Show.By Catherine McCall

Wilmington NC – [Click the LISTEN button to hear Catherine's commentary.]

When the most famous dog show in the world--the Westminster?selected a winner a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that the presidential campaign bears more than a barking resemblance to a dog show.

Think about it. Pedigree and family tree inevitably figure into both dramas. Some contenders are offspring of aristocratic lineage that dates back centuries. They?ve traveled widely and learned from or dismissed the finest instructors.

Other contestants sport a flimsier heritage, although if they?re clever they can use it as a springboard to victory: the mighty underdog lives on! Found in the corner of a small-town pound, these tail-waggers can be real spoilers. Their charm and good looks can get the crowd so excited that even the staunch party bluebloods have to, reluctantly, take notice.

In both contests, what we see on television is the culmination of months and years of carefully plodded strategy and hard work. Years of sitting when told to sit, of rolling over when told to do the same. The participants are combed and washed, fussed over and corrected.

Presidential and Westminster hopefuls must become accustomed to being ?handled.? They must learn discipline and focus. Heaven forbid a hound should unexpectedly track an enticing scent while he?s supposed to be strutting around the ring. Heaven forbid a candidate should bellow his excitement, or wander into an unrehearsed conversation with the press.

These are the sorts of missteps that keep ?handlers? up all night, plotting and scheming, working and re-working until all details, from remembering the favorite chews to packing the hair dryer, are accounted for.

To be a player on the national stage, both events require gobs of money. Most of this is provided by the ?owners? who may be corporate sponsors or donors, or may be little mom and pop hometown devotees. This is the cash and cache that greases the behind-the-scenes maneuvering and ultimately separates the victorious from the also-ran.

Deft handlers cost money, so do transportation, clothes and toenail clippers. There?s the catering to think of and the laundry, the make-up and grooming. Don?t forget the personal trainer, the voice and walking coach, and only the finest medical and veterinary consultations will do.

Westminster and the White House represent the cr?me de la cr?me when it comes to attaining hero status. This year at Westminster a bouncy, handsome, ?larger-than-life? Newfoundland named Josh was chosen to be Best-in-Show.

The presidential pack is still stacking up, but a glance at the variety of campaigning breeds may be useful?or at least amusing.

John Kerry is the basset hound in the race?long on intelligence, short on flash-appeal, he?s likeable and compelling, especially once you get to know him. John Edwards, on the other hand, is the golden retriever, good-looking and fun, he just wants to be loved. Al Sharpton is a Boston terrier, wherever he is he makes his presence known. The other Democrat is a different breed altogether. Dennis Kucinich is a cat among dogs, and his admirers love him all the more for it.

Beyond the Democrats there is the incumbent, George W., who most resembles a pug: little dog with a big dog attitude, he marches right into wherever he wants to be. And then there?s Ralph Nader, as disciplined and studied as the finest German Shepherd.

So there you have it. By next year?s Westminster we?ll have a new dog in the White House, or maybe just the same old dog who has learned a few new tricks. Either way, the next eight months promise a lot of tail-wagging and leg-lifting, but I better stop there before the animal rights folks track me down.

Catherine McCall is a psychiatrist who lives and works in Wilmington.