Ask Matt Labash

Ask Matt Labash Vol. XLV: Dogs to Michael Vick and Obama: ‘Bite me’

Matt Labash Columnist

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I love Tucker Carlson to death, but what was he smoking when he said Michael Vick should be executed? – Craighton J.

The giggle weed of enlightenment? The crack pipe of karmic justice? Look, I know Tucker’s pronouncement wasn’t the least controversial thing in the world to say. So there was a predictable level of blowback: spittle-flecked denunciations, Tweets of outrage, stale bow-tie jokes, all three of which were perfectly embodied by public intellectual/TV weatherman Al Roker, whose iPhone damnation read, “Tucker Carlson’s bowtie has finally cut off oxygen to his brain. Only explanation for odious Michael Vick comment. Or maybe he’s an idiot.” This hardly seemed sporting – making a dated bow-tie joke a half decade after Tucker quit wearing one. It’d be like me making fat jokes about Al Roker, though he’s had his stomach stapled since 2002.

One can always expect, of course, a certain level of Tucker-bashing no matter what he says. Despite his general good cheer and nondoctrinaire libertarian politics, he has a knack for eliciting irrational hatred among the left. So it’s small surprise that Tucker was this roundly denounced for beating up a cold-blooded dog murderer like Michael Vick. One gets the sense that if Tucker came out squarely against necrophilia, a high percentage of The Nation readers would rush to the local morgue to pick out life partners by that afternoon. Since Tucker’s against capital punishment, it’s pretty clear his suggesting Vick should be executed was hyperbolic (look it up, Twitterers, it’s just a page or so over in the dictionary from “hypersensitive” and “hysteria.”)

That said, Tucker’s larger point – that Michael Vick is a degenerate asshole, guilty of unspeakable crimes against man’s best friend – stands. I say that not as a Cowboys fan, but as a fierce dog-lover (a tribe of which Tucker is chief — Tucker’s been known to take his dogs to restaurant drive-thrus to reward them, and his brother even bears a tattoo of their long-deceased spaniel on his leg). For Barack Obama to take the occasion of calling the Philadelphia Eagles’ owner to congratulate him on giving Vick a second chance (which is what precipitated Carlson’s comment in the first place) is an abomination. I don’t pretend to speak for dogs, but if Bo, Obama’s beloved Portuguese Water Dog, could talk, I’m fairly certain he’d say to both his owner and Vick: “Bite me.”

Lest we forget precisely what Vick was guilty of, it’s worth revisiting the Smoking Gun website to read the original indictment. Not only was Vick running a dog-fighting ring out of his Bad Newz Kennels. But Vick, in concert with his thuggish fellow torturers, was responsible for wetting down a female pit bull which had lost, and electrocuting it. Likewise, approximately eight dogs that did not perform well in “testing” sessions (meaning they looked to be subpar fighters), were executed “by various methods, including hanging, drowning, and slamming at least one dog’s body to the ground.”

Vick, of course, hasn’t rested on the title of being the best dog-executioner in the NFL. He’s  done plenty else to burnish his reputation as a certified punk: shooting the bird when he wasn’t drowning dogs, failing drug tests, settling out of court for not disclosing his herpes to a woman he had unprotected sex with. And that’s just for starters. But he did serve 19 months in prison for his crimes against dogs (after being denied an “acceptance of responsibility” credit that would’ve reduced his sentence, because as the judge put it, of his “less than truthful” statements about killing his pit bulls).

So should Vick, as President Obama and so many others contend, be given a second chance? Absolutely. I’d have nothing against him getting a job hauling the ashes from a veterinary crematorium, or working as a pooper scooper at a dog park – after the dogs have left for the day, just to be on the safe side. But why, exactly, Vick’s entitled to be restored to his former glory in the NFL is anyone’s guess. In most public-relations conscious organizations these days, you can get fired and stay that way for offenses as miniscule as sending an untoward e-mail. Not in the NFL, of course, where you can sext-message photos of your junk, and walk away with a fine.

Still, the NFL is not above hair-splitting micromanagement. After all, it’s the league that banned Dexter Manley for life for the comparatively victimless crime of being unable to refrain from putting cocaine up his nose. Likewise, in the past, they’ve banned touchdown dances, stocking caps, and tweeting 90 minutes before a game. They’ve even banned finasteride (aka Propecia, the baldness drug, since it masks steroid use – call your lawyer, Tom Brady). But apparently, drowning dogs doesn’t rise to this level of egregiousness.

Now comes word that Vick wants to own a dog – as a pet! – because he thinks it would be a “great step in my rehabilitation process.” And the president of The Humane Society, Wayne Pacelle, who appears to have been taken to the vet and neutered, concurred, saying he thinks it would be advisable in the future. The obvious question being – who gives a toss if Michael Vick thinks it’s a great idea to remake himself as Doctor Dolittle? Maybe his agent does, so that Vick  can start reaping endorsement money again. But it’s kind of a secondary concern, in the grand scheme of things. If a “reformed” child rapist now thought it would be a swell idea to adopt, in order to aid in his recovery, we’d tell him to get bent, put Nestor-the-Molester signs in his yard, and place him under 24-hour surveillance. Similarly, the only way Vick should be allowed around dogs again is if they’re rabid, haven’t been fed for a week, and he’s wearing a jumpsuit made of Kibbles ‘N Bits.

I haven’t been a fan of Ted Danson’s since he hung up his spurs as Sam Malone on “Cheers.” From having a fling with one of the unfunniest funny women on the planet, Whoopi Goldberg, to his Clinton family adulation, to his windy diatribes on wind-power on the Huffington Post, he hasn’t done much to keep me on the mailing list. That said, I recently read a “What I’ve Learned” Esquire interview with Danson that increased my respect for him immeasurably. In it, he said, “Your children may rat on you. Your wife will fire back at you. But if you’re not kind to your dogs, what can they do? A really big test of how kind a human being is comes with how well he treats his dogs.”

Michael Vick is lucky that so many have extended kindnesses to him that he was unwilling to extend to his dogs. (Though one wonders if the public would be quite so forgiving if he didn’t have a 100.2 quarterback rating – 4th in the league – with the Eagles sitting atop the NFC East.) As of this writing, Vick’s been sidelined with a quadriceps contusion after a game in which the Vikings sacked him six times. As one fan posted on the ProFootballTalk blog after the execution-comment kerfuffle, “Vick was executed last night by the Minnesota Viking defense. I think Antoine Winfield wore the black mask….”

Vick’s just fortunate that he sustained the injury as the quarterback of the Eagles, and not as a fighting dog in the Bad Newz Kennels. Because if he were the latter, he’d probably have been slammed to the ground or electrocuted by now.

Matt Labash is a senior writer with the Weekly Standard magazine. His book, “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys,” was published this spring by Simon and Schuster. Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.