As mea culpas go, Dave Ratner’s was a doozy.
“I was duped,” he said. “I am an idiot.”
Maybe he’s being too hard on himself. Let’s see.
You own a chain of pet stores in a section of Western Massachusetts known as the Happy Valley because many residents swing widely to the left, a place that has the greatest concentration of “RESIST” bumper stickers in the world, a place where for the most part Donald Trump is about as popular as a flatulent dog.
So, as the ubiquitous, unmistakable face of Dave’s Soda and Pet City, you decide it’s a good idea to put on a suit, fly to Washington, and stand behind President Trump while a photographer records for posterity him signing an executive order that will take health benefits away from people.
OK. Maybe Dave Ratner isn’t being too hard on himself.
The business Ratner built up over 40 years, and might have ruined in a nanosecond, is an institution in Western Mass. His commercials are sweetly goofy, but genuine, sort of like Dave Ratner.
Give him his due: Ratner knows retail. In an age when corporate giants like PetSmart and Petco enjoy national economies of scale, Ratner’s quirky, howdy-neighbor authenticity has built regional brand loyalty.
His locally broadcast “Dave’s Pet Show” has the production values of “Wayne’s World.” His video on how to make your dog less gassy should have been nominated for an Academy Award. Watching Dave Ratner on TV is like watching Ned Flanders come to life.
But Ratner’s retail acumen does not translate to political savvy. His decision to be used as a photo prop by the Trump administration reveals the sort of naïveté you’d expect from a guy who thinks everything’s on the up and up. Or maybe just somebody who was flattered to get invited to the White House.
His explanation for going, detailed in a letter to the editor at The Republican, was honest, heartfelt, and shocking.
Here’s the honest and heartfelt part:
“I was originally invited to the White House in my role as a member of the National Retail Federation. We have long supported an effort that would give small businesses more flexibility in purchasing health insurance and we were told that a ceremony would announce that Associations could now provide members with group insurance rates (making health insurance more affordable for our employees).”
Here’s the shocking part:
“It was obviously an error in judgement to believe the White House that this was the only change they would be announcing. Many of the other changes in the Executive Order are likely to make it harder for local residents to get affordable healthcare — the exact opposite of what I was hoping for when I went to Washington.”
If Dave Ratner thought the cabal of knaves currently occupying the White House are inclined to tell the truth about anything, he’s got bigger problems than I thought.
Still, there’s something very wrong about Ratner being dismissed and savaged as a greedy employer. He is hardly alone among small-business owners who have complained that the Affordable Care Act has hurt their flexibility and bottom line. He has a record and reputation as a good corporate citizen.
Ratner’s response to the threats of boycotts and vicious things being said about him on social media has been to repudiate the Trump White House.
Again, that’s not necessarily the most savvy thing to do, because it won’t win back anybody on the left who has a political litmus test for where they buy dog food. And it will alienate customers in the cluster of towns that voted for Trump, such as Ludlow and Agawam, home to two of Ratner’s seven stores, who would have been inclined to rally around him in the face of a liberal backlash.
Please, somebody throw this poor guy a bone. I just wish that when he went to the Oval Office he had worn that T-shirt he hawks on his website: I’d Rather Be With My Dog.Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.