Stay with me on this: U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has a wife (quiet with the Mormon jokes). His wife, Ann Romney, has a horse. This horse, Rafalca, competed in the Olympic Games in London in the event of Dressage. Liberals are making some political hay out of this. Barack Obama hasn't approved any messages or anything, but there's at least been some snickering from people who think Dressage is a weird, aristocratic holdover. And of course, there's something to that point of view; the event doesn't test speed or strength or agility, but just the horse's ability to perform a predetermined routine (And thus, the rider's ability to train them). The rider wears a top hat and tails, and the colloquial of "horse dancing" really isn't too far off the mark. If the Romneys enjoy that, the line goes, then they're hopelessly out of touch with "real" Americans (and I rather suppose the fact that only Ann Romney is into it doesn't matter; most of us aren't in a situation where it means anything if one spouse "owns" something and not the other).
There's no doubt that this is kind of silly. Frist of all, we here at the Left Field Line firmly believe that everyone has a right to like the sports they like without judgement (though I'll admit that animal-based sports make me a little uncomfortable; story for another time, though). Second of all, what the fuck is a "real" American, anyway? And third, it's not like Mitt Romney's ever going to face a Dressage-related crisis in office. He's not going to have to decide between giving Dressage owners a tax cut and children health care. Similarly, Barack Obama is never going to have to decide whether or not to declare war on an arugula-producing nation; these just aren't relevant factors to the Presidency.
But y'know what? It's not entirely silly. The fact is, we do need to know about a President's personality. If we know his personality, we know his decision-making process, his cognitive biases, his priorities. And in some ways, that's more important than, well, his policies. Presidencies almost always get swallowed up by unforeseen (and unforeseeable) events; think George Bush and 9/11, or Obama and the Tea Party. How they respond to those things is just as important as the plans they run on. But we can't know how they'll respond to those things, because they are, by definition, unforeseen.
So, we try to figure out a President's personality during the campaign. But, personalities are necessarily ephemeral, especially when we can only judge them through the filter of a campaign and the other filter of the media. So, we have to go on clues. What books do they read? What music do they like? Do they work out? How do they treat their family? And yeah, what sports do they like? Hopefully, we can put all of that information together and get a halfway decent composite sketch of the man.
Of course, Rafalca doesn't tell us anything about Romney we didn't already know. Oh, he's "out of touch"? His horrific tax plan told me that, to say nothing of his statements about being friends with NASCAR owners and thinking income inequality is about "envy". But it's all of a piece with this backwards-ass mindset, and it displays that mindset in a more visceral way, and as such, is kind of illuminating about Romney. Rafalca becomes a sort of political short-hand for all of Romney's bad policies and dumb sayings. That's fine; sports function as political symbols all the time. But we shouldn't mistake Rafalca, in and of herself, for a reason to vote against Romney, just a reminder of all the very good reasons to do so. Anything else is just unfair to Rafalca. And C'mon. She's an Olympian, for Pete's sake.