I'm never going to get the rules of American politics quite right. I have just begun to understand why a live boy in a politician's bed is equal not to a live girl but a dead girl, and now I have to learn all those intricate rules about how to rank the possible ill-treatment of political pets.

For example, Mitt Romney once strapped the dog crate on top of the family car for an eight-hour fun tour, with the dog still in the crate. Is this really no worse, politically speaking, than the Clinton cat, Socks, being given away to a secretary whom the cat loved best anyway?

Caitlin Flanagan seems to suggest so:

Perhaps the cautionary tale of Socks the cat will make a difference. "Hillary's insistence that we follow her example in pet ownership, when she really should be on Cat Fancy's Most Wanted List, makes her a tiresome bore," Flanagan writes.

So what are these pet-owning political rules? Do they follow the usual pattern of balance, I wonder, so that a Democratic presidential candidate finding a new home for a pet is as bad as a Republican candidate treating a dog in a way which made the dog's bowels empty themselves all over the station wagon windows?

And what is it that we learn from all these pet stories?

--J. Goodrich