Outposts from The Small of America: Skunked

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Skunkbath MonaBy Tom Driscoll | September 18, 2009 • Dogs got skunked the other morning on a walk up the bluff with my wife Beth. Got home, she couldn’t let them in the house. Told me what we needed’s a can of tomato juice. Only way to get stink off a dog’s been skunked.

Stirred a little dry dogfood around in a frying pan, sopped up what else but fresh tomato juice left behind from supper the night before. Stepped out back carrying two stainless steel bowls. There’s Mona and Brother, couple good dogs who love getting scratched and patted in the morning, sitting contritely on the deck, ears limp and unsure, butts trying not to waggle, eyes resolutely sorry and sad.

They waited, staring at the dog bowls. When I plunked down her food, Mona, who took a direct shot of stink, tried to lick my ear. Pushed the poor dog away in disgust. All I could smell’s that stinky-skunk-stink.

Skunk-stink on a dog is like obscenity, at least if you agree with Justice Potter Stewart’s definition from a 1964 Supreme Court decision involving a French film banned in Ohio. You know it when you smell it.

What about racism? Is racist behavior like skunk-stink and obscenity, devilishly hard to describe but unmistakable once experienced?

Bluestem Prairie is a hip (but not cynical) rural magazine for those who prefer take their corn with a progressive chaser and tongue planted firmly in cheek.

That’s the question former President Jimmy Carter threw out for debate last week when he stated that much of the recent criticism of President Barack Obama is rooted in racism. Good for Carter for raising the issue, because it is relevant and important to consider during the first term of America’s first black President, his first year one of unmistakable change.

Are Obama’s critics racists? All of them? Some of them? None of them? How do you know? What’s the definition of racism?

Now that’s a tough one. Which is what Potter Stewart was trying to say when he ruled that the Constitution protected all obscenity except for hard-core pornography. “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description,” wrote Justice Stewart, “and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

Following Stewart’s line of thinking, then one way to rank stinky behavior is to first rule out the skunk of bigotry: hatred. Hate Speech, use of the unspeakable N-word, for example, or threats. Hate Imagery, Obama portrayed as a witchdoctor or a monkey. And of course, Hate Crimes, targeted violence against people of different ethnicity or sexual orientation. When you experience hate, you know it’s hate.

But what about all the other Tea Party protestors and Obama’s principled critics?

Well, after the air is cleared of hard-core-racism, take another good whiff. There’s still something in the breeze smells a lot like diluted skunk-stink lingering in wet dog fur after a tomato juice bath.

Granted, not every Obama critic should be broad-brushed as a racist. That’s an outrageous proposition on the face of it. But when a crowd is sprayed by a skunk, a little bit of stink sticks to everybody.

(Incidentally, the best way to unstink a dog’s been skunked is to give it a hot, soapy bath immediately. No tomato juice required.)

Watch a slideshow of candidate-Obama last year in La Crosse.

Minnesota writer Tom Driscoll reports on politics, economic development and life in rural America at The Small of America. He can be reached at smallofamerica@aol.com.