New York Times columnist Gail Collins went on the Late Show with David Letterman Tuesday night, ostensibly to discuss her new biography of President William Henry Harrison. But the first segment was entirely devoted to what even Letterman knows she is famous for: Obsessively retelling in her columns the tale of poor Seamus, Mitt Romney's dog, strapped in a crate to the roof of a station wagon for a family vacation that took place almost 30 years ago. Collins eagerly obliged Letterman's request to hear the story, to the amusement of the audience, many of which seemed to be hearing the story for the first time.
LETTERMAN: "Now before we get to the book, it's through you and colleagues that I work with that I became aware of Mitt Romney putting his dog on the roof of the car. And I so loved the fact that this happened to this guy and I loved the fact that you more than any single journalist that I know, writer, that I know, has promoted it. Tell us how you know about it. Tell us what happened with Mitt and the dog. I know what happened to the dog. Tell people the story."
COLLINS: "The story goes back to 1983 and the Boston Globe wrote about it in 2007 when Romney ran the first time for President. The family was going on a trip to Canada. It was about a 12-hour trip. It was a long drive and the Romneys and their five children are in the car and then there's this very large Irish Setter named Seamus which Mitt Romney put on the roof in a crate with a little shield on the front so it could look out. At one point he said it was air-tight but I don't really think it possibly could have been because the dog would have died."
LETTERMAN: "The dog was vacuum(?)-sealed. Oh, my God! Good Lord. They make the 12-hour drive?"
COLLINS: "Well, they started, and the important thing to remember is that this drive was perfectly organized by Mitt Romney so that there were only designated rest stops and there was going to be no stopping outside of the designated rest-stop route. So they're driving along, and Seamus, possibly unhappy at being on top of the car on the highway for hours on end."
LETTERMAN: "Doing 80."
COLLINS: "Doing 80. Develops diarrhea. So the kids in the back are looking out the back window going 'ooh, gross, Dad' and shrieking and so Mitt is forced to drive off the highway to an undesignated rest stop."
LETTERMAN: "Yes. Not on the itinerary."
COLLINS: "Nobody is allowed to get out of the car. He gets out, grabs a hose, hoses down the car, hoses down the dog, jumps back in the car and off they go again. Which is, if you want to look at it, a decisive executive thing to do. If you're not the Irish Setter."
LETTERMAN: "But now, I mean, as silly as this all might be, I'm told that later upon arriving in Toronto the dog left, hitchhiked back, he had somebody, took him over the border, and they never saw him again. Is that–?"
COLLINS: "He asked for amnesty."
LETTERMAN: "Yeah, so, but here's my point. We do something here a couple times a year called Stupid Pet Tricks and the pets skate and they whistle and whatever they do and PETA immediately launches a campaign. They want to shut the whole damn thing down. Now why have haven't they been up Mitt's nose about the dog episode?"
COLLINS: "Well, he claimed they were when it first came up. His first response was the dog liked the fresh air. (Pause for laughter) Then there was, the dog really liked that crate. And often jumped into it on the car by himself. And the other one was PETA is out to get me because I let there be a rodeo at the Utah Olympics and this is all a plot by PETA, all this talking about Seamus."
LETTERMAN: "So what it boiled down to me, and thank God I'm not running for office. I don't know about you but I have been guilty in my life of nothing but poor judgment. Nothing but poor judgment! Now, but I'm not running for president. So now just imagine this. This is a guy in the Oval Office, the most powerful position in the world, he's a guy we want crystal-clear judgment, maybe shaded a little bit one way or the other, but by God we don't want a guy deciding 'Let's put the dog on the roof and drive to Canada.' I mean, I'm right about something there."
COLLINS: "Well, there was a survey done this week in which I think most Americans said they would rather not have a dog on the roof under any circumstances."
LETTERMAN: "But am I on to something here about this suggests a greater wrinkle of the fabric than just something stupid he did on vacation?"
COLLINS: "Well, yeah I think, pet transport is not a major issue probably in the campaign. But there is something about it, it's sort of like Imelda Marcos and the 2,700 shoes, it just kind of tweaks some feeling people have about Mitt Romney right now, that does make them kind of, you know, what was he thinking?"
LETTERMAN: "Well, yeah, tweaked, but I'd like to see the guy arrested."
COLLINS: "Well, there's that too." (Laughter, applause.)