What I Learned at the Dog Park

I didn’t attend the February 3rd Iowa Democratic Caucuses, but I did hold my own version of the caucus at our neighborhood dog park. The results are probably as accurate as those from Iowa: Biden lost, Bernie and Buttigieg tied for first place, and there’s an opening for Bloomberg.

I live in West Sonoma County — roughly 60 miles above San Francisco.  Most days I take my Australian Shepherd to a well-equipped dog park.  While my Aussie plays, I talk to a regular group of dog owners about dogs, life, and politics.

There’s one golden rule of dog-park behavior: take care of your dog — clean up after him/her and don’t let them abuse other dogs.  If you meet this standard then you are accepted.  And, your political opinion is tolerated.

There may be a Trump supporter among this crew, but they’ve never come out.  Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed that the dog-park crew are overwhelmingly Democrats.  Some of them admit that in the 2016 presidential election they could not bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton, but they did not vote for Donald Trump; they either didn’t mark their ballot or voted for Jill Stein.

After the results of the Iowa caucuses were in, I queried the dog-park crew about what they thought the results meant.  Here’s what I learned:

1.Any Democratic candidate is better than Trump but some Democratic candidates are better than others.  (By the way: I never heard anyone say, “If Bernie doesn’t get the nomination, I’m not going to vote” — words that my stepson says he’s heard from His “Burning Man” friends.)

2. Some folks really don’t like Bernie Sanders.  He got the most negative comments of any of the Democratic contenders.  But that doesn’t mean these dog-park denizens won’t vote for Bernie in a contest against Trump.

3. There’s no candidate that elicits universal praise.  Most of the dog-park women like Elizabeth Warren but they are not “disciples” — they don’t have the fervor that we saw, from some women, when Hillary Clinton ran.

4. My homies don’t like Trump because of his poor character.  Sure, they don’t agree with many of his policies — such as his denial of global climate change — but this isn’t what’s driving their political behavior.  The dog-park crew can’t stand Trump as a person.  They cite his lying, intolerance, adversarial approach — “my way or the highway,” and all-around ineptitude.

5. For the dog-park denizens, this election is much more about character than policy.  While from a policy perspective there is a liberal group and a moderate group of candidates, their ultimate choice for the Democratic candidate will be based upon their assessment of who would have the best chance of beating Trump — and bringing dignity back to the oval office.

6. Everyone was surprised that Pete Buttigieg did so well in the Iowa caucuses.  (Buttigieg and Sanders tied for first place.)  The dog-park crew likes Mayor Pete but they don’t know that much about him.  Some wondered if a gay man can beat Trump.

7. No one was surprised that Joe Biden did not win.  People like Joe but they don’t believe he is strong enough to beat Trump.

8. There was mild surprise that Elizabeth Warren came in third.  The dog-park women have Elizabeth as their first choice.  Some men feel that Elizabeth reminds them of a school teacher, who lectured them.

9. I observed that the Iowa result might provide an opening for Michael Bloomberg — who was not on the ballot in Iowa but will be on the ballot for the March 3rd California primary election.  When I made this suggestion, nearly everyone around said, “I’d vote for Bloomberg.”

10. Most of the dog-park crew expect there will be a contentious Democratic Presidential convention in mid-July.

Summary: From this perspective, it looks like the race for the Democratic nomination has narrowed to Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren, and Bloomberg.  For the record, Buttigieg and Warren have dogs; Bloomberg and Sanders don’t.