Every election cycle has its heroes: those characters who emerge from our nation’s folds to push the political conversation. If 2008 had Joe the Plumber and 2012 brought us entire binders full of women, in 2016 we are lucky enough to have Clarabelle the Dog, an Iowa City resident who’s already met ten presidential candidates — possibly more than any human without a press pass.
Clarabelle has received coverage from the New York Times for pushing Hillary Clinton to clarify her stance on immigration, and personally felt the Bern. Johnson County’s most politically active canine has been chronicling her adventures on her blog, The Campaign Tail. We talked with her “humans,” Hannah Cross and Max Rubin (who has also written about politics for The New Yorker‘s News Desk) about caucusing, and Clarabelle’s role in the elections.
Little Village: Clarabelle’s met ten candidates so far. What brought about her — or your — involvement in politics?
Max Rubin and Hannah Cross: We’ve both been politically active — or at least politically tuned in — for most of our lives. It’s how we were raised. I (Max) did my bachelor’s in political science and have some campaign work in my past. Even at a young age, Hannah was rewriting pop songs to have political themes.
What brought about Clarabelle’s involvement in politics? Well, initially, we wanted to confront the candidates with the kinds of questions they don’t like, call them out to their faces. But they’ve been around the block. They’d see us at their town hall meetings and they’d know right away: don’t call on those two. So we thought, what’s another approach? What makes us more disarming? And the answer literally fell into our lap. And then it started licking our faces. We thought, no politician is going to refuse a photo with a dog. So we take these photos and it’s always a very pleasant interaction (well, almost: Ben Carson said no at first), and then Clarabelle turns around and rips them to pieces on her blog. The added bonus is that, if we hit all the candidates, this time next year we will have a photo of the President of the United States posing with our dog.
Will Clarabelle be caucusing?
Yeah, she won’t stop talking about it. Though she doesn’t know who she’s supporting yet. She’s talking about making that public a day or two before the caucus.
The Times said that your plan for Clarabelle to meet each Democratic candidate is “plausible only in this state where retail politics are so customary that even canines get involved.” Is Clarabelle’s entrance into the discourse a mockery of our state’s overinflated role in the political process, an argument about what makes it great, performance art or something else entirely? And what can a dog bring to the political discussion that we humans cannot?
Maybe it’s closest to performance art. Really more than anything it’s just something to do. Pretty much everyone we know in Iowa was gone this summer, and so we dreamed up some ways to make our own fun. This was one of them.
I (Max) should preface this by saying I don’t really watch their show, but I remember years and years ago seeing the creators of South Park talking about how they came up with Cartman. They said they wanted an Archie Bunker-type character, but you can’t get away with the things that Archie Bunker would say anymore. So they thought, well wait, what if we had an eight-year-old do it? It’s the same concept with Clarabelle. She can get away with saying things that Hannah and I can’t. I should also add that we don’t necessarily agree with or endorse any of her views. She’s a pretty salty dog, and a lot of what she has to say can be a little much for our sensibilities.
Clarabelle asked Hillary Clinton about immigration and Mike Huckabee about religious liberties. Does she have other political priorities, and do they differ from your own?
Clarabelle has a complex relationship with the question of a woman’s right to choose. Before Hannah found her at the shelter, Clarabelle was spayed without her consent. She believes it’s the right thing to do — in fact, she believes all domesticated pets should be neutered — but because of what she went through, she believes it should ultimately be the choice of the animal and its owner, not of some large bureaucratic agency.
Poet Eileen Myles is currently writing a memoir of her deceased pitbull Rosie, who was also her running-mate during a 1992 campaign for presidency. Laurie Anderson made a movie about grief (and 9/11) that centers on her talented rat terrier, Lolabelle. Is this the golden age of canine cultural commentary?
That question may be out of our pay grade. We’re not sure if Clarabelle is cripplingly shy around other dogs or if she’s just straight up pretentious. But either way she doesn’t do much mingling with her species, so we’re not tuned into the dog-lit scene. She thinks of herself as more of an outsider artist.