A Matter of Tooth and Claw

updated 09/21/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/21/1992 01:00AM

ELECTION DAY IS ONLY SIX WEEKS AWAY, and the American voter—thoughtful, concerned and well informed as always—is wrestling with the Big Important Questions. Who can best handle the economy? Who is best equipped to guide the country's foreign policy? Should the nations First Pet be a dog or a cat? Yes, beyond such superficial distinctions as Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, there lies the one truly unbridgeable chasm in our society—dog people vs. cat people. And this year, the choice is very clear. The Republicans, in the person of Barbara's dog Millie, represent continuity. The Democrats, epitomized by Chelsea Clinton's cat, Socks, represent dramatic change.

Millie, a 5-year-old springer spaniel, is a female—rhymes with rich, as Barbara Bush once said in a different context. She has lived with the Bushes since 1987 and in the White House since 1989. She replaced C. Fred, a cocker spaniel who died in office. Millie's tenure has been marked chiefly by chasing squirrels, digging up flower beds and romping on the meat lawn. In between she has shared the writing credits—with Barbara Bush—for Millie's Book, which became a surprise best-seller last year. Although royalties in 1991 amounted to $889,176, no hint of canine cupidity attaches to Millie's name. Read her lips: The after-tax take was donated to charity. (On the issue of family values, Millie gets mixed reviews. She became a single mother in 1989, giving birth to six pups—but escaped censure.)

As for Socks, she is new and not much is known about her. Does she have claws? Has she been spayed? Does she ever miss the litter box? Is she a threat to bird life-? Saying only that Chelsea "wanted a cal real bad," the Clinton campaign has chosen not to exploit Socks for cheap political advantage—probably because Bill and Hilary, who once owned a dog named Zeke, are allergic to her. Attempts to portray Socks' sire as a notorious tomcat appear to be just dirty tricks. What is certain is that if she gets to be First Pet, even if only by a whisker, any mice in the White House should watch out.

Next Jan. 20, someone will take the oath of office as President of the United States. And in the White House that night, it will be reigning cats or dogs.

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