In defense of poodles
WASHINGTON — It didn’t take long after the Helsinki summit for European and American media publications to declare Donald Trump Vladimir Putin’s pet dog.
Britain’s Daily Mirror used “Putin’s poodle” in its next-day coverage. Other European and American outlets referred to the president as “weak” or “submissive.”
Former CIA Director John Brennan said on Twitter that Trump’s tail-wagging submission to Putin was “nothing short of treasonous.” Even Foreign Policy magazine hacked the benighted poodle in its headline: “Trump Is Coming Off as Putin’s Poodle, But That Actually Undermines Russia’s Main Goal.”
Editorial cartoonists ran with the image. Atlanta-based Trevor Irvin depicted Putin holding a leash attached to a pink-poufed Trump poodle and tossing a tennis ball in the air. The caption: “Let’s play fetch my little Troodle.” Two days before the summit, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez had pre-emptively called the president “Putin’s poodle” after a Trump tweet about the indictment of 12 Russians as part of the Mueller investigation.
In journalism, we call that a trend.
But this isn’t the first time a world leader has been characterized as a poodle, again for appearing to do another’s bidding. During the Iraq War, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair was often called President George W. Bush’s poodle. A sampling of headlines: “Was Blair Bush’s poodle?” (The Financial Times); “I’m not Bush’s poodle, insists Blair” (Daily Mail); “Ten Years Later, Still Bush’s Poodle” (The National Interest); “Bush: Blair Was No Poodle” (CBS News).
You get the idea.
Not surprisingly, poodles are outraged. Surely, any fair person would concede that they deserve a voice in the matter, which I have volunteered to provide. I am a poodle person. I am not, however, a poufy-poodle person, as my unkempt Ollie would attest were he able. Poodles, which originated in Germany, not France, as often believed, were bred as duck-hunting retrievers. It was the French, however, who began the practice of turning these enthusiastic swimmers into canine topiaries.
The idea behind these poodle aspersions, apparently, is that when a world leader appears to be weak or subservient, then he or she is considered to be poodle-like. This is absurd on its face. First of all, poodles are inexplicably brave, especially those of the toy breed, which, despite their aptitude in other matters, are oblivious to scale.
Ollie, who was born blind, at least has an excuse for confusing a Doberman with a Pekinese. But even sighted poodles are ridiculously smug around grander beasts. This was certainly true for Gigi, my childhood toy poodle, who never knew fear or defeat during her 18-year stint as the luckiest dog on Earth.
On the second point, poodles are the precise opposite of subservient. Agreeable, yes. Grovelers, no. This is principally because they are more intelligent than the average American adult. They’ll “obey” to make a human feel good, but this is only a performance, an act of strategic subterfuge aimed at some higher order of self-indulgence.
Thus, to call a weak, submissive fool a poodle is misguided — and no insult to the person so designated. Perhaps, such scribes and scribblers are projecting their own rage at the object of their thwarted childhood dreams? If girls always wanted a pony, did some boys-become-pundits always really want a poodle? Clearly, more study is needed.
They say that people often resemble the dogs they choose for themselves, though just as likely, they select dogs with the characteristics they think they also possess. Putin, for example, once bragged to Bush that his dog, a Labrador retriever, was bigger, stronger and faster than Bush’s Scottish Terrier. To be sure, this was true, but what kind of man displays his dog’s physical attributes to burnish his own masculinity and, presumably, his dominion in the dog park?
Would that insights into foreign leaders were so simple. Here’s an idea: Let’s skip World War III and just have a dog show.
Trump, alas, has no dog in this fight or any other. This is because in his mind, he is the dog. He’s the Big Dog. He’s got bigger buildings, better cars, boats and planes, the prettiest wife. And the world isn’t an oyster, after all, but a hydrant. How odd, given all his massive accumulation of objects and wealth, that he did seem to be wagging for Putin and begging for treats.
This is nothing a real poodle would do — ever. I’ve known poodles, Mr. Trump, and, notwithstanding your topiar-ied poof, you’re no poodle.
©2018, Washington Post Writers Group