Day in and day out, the White House press corps wrestles with matters of war and peace, the visits of kings and queens, the great ebb and flow of human accomplishment, misfortune and need, as told through the often lonely life of a single man in an oval office. We are, as far as it goes, decent scribblers and lenses, observers and recorders, capable of responding to just about any eventuality with some immediate attempt to explain what it all means.
But such talents are no match for a fuzzy white-pawed creature with webbed toes, spring-loaded legs and a clear desire to sniff the whole world.
“The latest addition to the family,” President Obama announced proudly Tuesday, as he walked out on the south lawn of the White House, with his wife and daughters. Michelle Obama hung onto a leash, trying to hold back the enthusiasms of Bo, the nation’s new first dog, which couldn’t have cared less about the more than 100 reporters, photographers and videographers, who had been waiting hours to glimpse the pooch.
Bo was focused on the smells–of the grass, the driveway, the feet and gear of the photographers. [See photos here.] He also wanted to run, across the great expanse of the White House grounds, with the fence line clear of spectators on orders of the Secret Service. But the first family would not let go of the leash. So the president stood by, offering to answer some canine questions, buying Bo some time to smell the ground.
Who will walk the dog? “We all have to take turns walking the dog.” Is Bo neutered? The president nodded. Where will the dog sleep? “Not in my bed. We set down that rule a long time ago.” Do you remember what Truman said about dogs in the White House? Obama smiled. “I’ve finally got a friend. Took some time,” he joked.
The rest of the family took turns wrangling the First Beast. “I love him. He’s perfect,” announced Malia, 10. “Are you doing okay? Yes you are,” purred Michelle as she rubbed the puppy’s head. “He doesn’t know how to swim,” advised Sasha, 7.
Hours earlier, before the FDOTUS stakeout had begun, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs had fielded a question about the dog. ” I don’t know what I’m supposed to tell you about the dog,” he said. “I don’t know the exact movements of the dog.” This was of little help for reporters seeking a storyline beyond the warm and fuzzy existence of the creature.
Before the great dog reveal, some reporters made game attempts to find in Bo some broader significance. There was the family storyline–Bo’s name referred both to a nickname for Michelle’s father and the name of a cousin’s pet. There was the political integrity storyline–the president had once suggested that the first dog would come from a shelter, but this one had not come from a shelter. There were even conspiratorial mumblings–the White House might use the Bo reveal to conceal some other news, like for instance the release of Obama’s tax returns. But alas none of these attempts ever amounted to much.
For, in the end, Bo is just a dog, a cute fun thing with a world around him that needs to be smelled. After a time, the Obama family decided to go for a walk across the south lawn towards the vegetable garden that Michelle had planted. They walked as a group, with no particular order or care, daughters sprinting ahead or falling behind, parents sometimes draping an arm around a child, passing off the leash, trotting with the puppy. They looked just like any other happy family, the sort that does not have a White House press corps watching its every move, trying to figure out what it all means.