In a recent piece in the Boston Globe (via Jim Romenesko), Swidey says that he’s tried to stay away from retelling the anecdote. He thinks that the media is overconcerned with the story: he reported it during the last election cycle, he notes, and “here we are, once again, watching the media and blogosphere—even the sober Wall Street Journal—fixate on Romney’s treatment of his dog nearly three decades ago.” Why? Swidey thinks it’s because other parts of the candidate’s bio—Mormonism, finance—seem so obscure to large swaths of the electorate. And because, as a candidate, Romney’s got a bit of a “Stepford husband” feel to him. "The more Romney’s handlers try to control his environment and prevent him from going off script, the more people will hunt for flashes of unscripted behavior," Swidey writes.
Does this story work to humanize the candidate? For some reason it calls to mind, for me, the father in A Christmas Story. There's a guy who would strap a dog to a car—wouldn’t he? All these Republican candidates need what little color they can get. And so we—the public, the media, the Internet—are giving it to them. Here's Romney, with his dog-shit problem. Santorum, with his santorum problem. Gingrich, with his verbal incontinence. They really are more similar than they think.