By James Bernstein
If it were up to me, every president would be required to have a cat in the White House.
The Bidens have dogs – Commander, a 4-month-old purebred German Shepherd puppy, and Major, who was sent back to the family home in Delaware after a few unfortunate encounters with White House staff.
But the first family finally adopted a cat at the end of January: Willow, a tabby cat with green eyes. Jill Biden fell in love with the feline after he jumped onto a stage during a speech she was giving. She named the cat after her hometown, Willow, Pa.
Dogs are staples of the White House. A famous dog was Checkers, Nixon’s cocker spaniel, whose name he invoked to win sympathy in a famous speech in 1952 to save his place on the Republican ticket. Nixon had been accused of irregularities relating to a fund created by his sponsors to reimburse him for his political expenses. His speech worked, and he became Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president for two terms.
Checkers is buried in a pet cemetery in Wantagh.
Going back further, Franklin Roosevelt had his Fala, a Scottie; John F. Kennedy received Pushinka, Strelka’s daughter, who had traveled to space aboard the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik, as a gift from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The Clintons had Buddy, a chocolate Labrador, and the Obamas had Bo, a Portuguese water dog.
It seems almost expected that the president will have a dog. Not so much of a cat, at least not so publicly. Maybe it’s because so far all of our presidents have been men, and men are supposed to like dogs and not necessarily cats, silly as that sounds. And maybe because dogs are still considered part of the American dream, along with the white picket fence and the station wagon (now an SUV).
But to be sure, some of our greatest presidents had cats. One of my favorites, Abraham Lincoln, loved cats. Lincoln left his dog, Fido, in Springfield, Illinois, when he was elected. He received two cats from Secretary of State William Seward. He fed them expensive White House china. His wife, Mary Todd, disapproved, but Lincoln, who disliked his predecessor James Buchanan, who did little or nothing to stop the rise of the Confederacy, said, “If the golden fork was enough good for former President James Buchanan, I think it’s good enough for Tabby.
Lincoln was so enamored with cats, the story goes, that his attention was distracted by mewings at General Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters in City Point, Va., during the Civil War Battle of Petersburg in March 1865, weeks before the president’s assassination. .
There were other early felines. Teddy Roosevelt had a six-toed cat, Slippers, who was often seen in the kitchen. Herbert Hoover’s Persian, Kitty, roamed the floors of the White House.
The Coolidges owned Tiger, Blacky, Bounder, Timmie, and even a bobcat named Smoky.
Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, had socks on. Socks had a song, a book, and a website about him. He was important in the White House. The president once became furious with the White House press corps when film crews enticed Socks to get close by offering him cat food.
But Socks never got on too well with Buddy the Lab and eventually found a home with Clinton’s secretary, Betty Currie.
According to presidential historians, only two of the nation’s chief executives — James K. Polk and Donald J. Trump — did not have pets in the White House. Polk, who was just 49 when inaugurated in 1845, was considered ultra-serious and went about annexing a bunch of states during his tenure. Asked about his animal-free presidency, Polk replied, “No president who faithfully performs his duty can have leisure.”
We can all think of a few presidents who would disagree.
Can you imagine a future presidential candidate whose platform includes welcoming a cat into the White House? Such a promise would be perfect!
Jim Bernstein is the editor of the Long Beach Herald. Any comments on this column? [email protected]