Some in the animal-protection movement mistake the cause for a part of the liberal progressive agenda (as if the Obama years have ushered in some golden era of cruelty-free living in America) and can be so wrapped up in that ideology as to ignore the most obvious of connections. In what moral universe does it makes sense to protect a wolf, pig, dog, or any other animal from needless suffering and violence, but not a human baby stirring in her mother’s womb? To their lasting credit, many animal activists post pictures on the Internet from factory farms, slaughterhouses, laboratories, and elsewhere, scenes so nightmarish at times that you have to study them for a moment before the horror of what’s unfolding becomes clear. How many of those same good people have ever brought themselves to look at pictures and films (even the ultrasonic and relatively endurable Silent Scream) showing what happens in an abortion, especially after the second or third month of fetal development, and to whom it happens? Different people are called to serve different causes, and if your vocation is to protect animals then no one is saying you have to sign up right away at National Right to Life. But if the creed is empathy for the weak, shouldn’t your sympathies at least lie in that direction?
I sure don’t think highly of executing packs of exhausted, terrified wolves from helicopters (“predator control,” as that euphemism goes, never mind the cowardly killers with the guns). But a person who advocates even that strikes me as somewhat more amenable to rational moral appeal than a candidate, and now a president, who has left on the record not a single word of sympathy for the victims of abortion — tens of millions since Roe v. Wade
— nor ever supported the merest protection for unborn children. Even if you are a single-issue voter for animal causes, there is to this day no reason to support President Obama on that account. Neither he nor the Democratic leadership has ever displayed any particular concern for animals; the Justice Department under President Obama has actually helped the meat industry lately to nullify state anti-cruelty laws, and even wolf slaughter was expanded this year by the president’s interior secretary. And I have a theory about that: When a party’s moral energy is so consumed by “abortion rights,” with all the phony indignation and make-believe idealism we saw again this summer in the case of Texas state senator Wendy Davis — in defense of elective late-term abortion, “Stand with Wendy!” — there is not much left for causes of genuine altruism.
There were other considerations in the 2008 campaign, issues having nothing to do with abortion or cruelty, along with my enormous personal respect for Senator John McCain, whom I first met more than 30 years ago and who, after all, was at the top of the ticket. I worked for him as well, and it happens that Senator McCain has an exemplary record on both the life issue and animal welfare. So far as Palin was concerned, the life issue and a sense of friendship from the start were enough to go by. Liberals are supposed to believe in, above all, inclusiveness, and this was a candidate whose rallies and airport arrivals were often filled with hundreds of children and adults with disabilities of every kind, some in wheelchairs, doubtless many at their first such event. Had the Obama campaign inspired similar scenes, there would have been rumors in the press of healings and miracles. But they were there because of Sarah Palin, holding up signs saying “Here for Trig” because of the choice she had made — to love and be proud of her child — and the message that had sent to all of those with disabilities. When, in national politics, has any figure ever so movingly affirmed their equal place as citizens of our country? Read the letter that Palin wrote to her family when Trig (whose name, she says, in Norse means “True” and “Brave Victory”) was expected. Better than anything we ever produced together in 2008, that letter belongs in the literature of the very finest pro-life wisdom, testifying to the goodness of her youngest son’s life and to a greatness in her own character.
The pile of moose and deer antlers on the campaign plane, gifts bestowed on the candidate at every rural stop, did get to be a little much, and it’s true that when some conservatives speak of animal-related issues, a certain smug indifference can slip in that needs close watching — brushing off as an absurd imposition, for instance, the very idea of cruelty-free alternatives, or relishing opportunities to give offense to vegetarians and other people concerned about animals. They’re a little too comfortable thinking of those people as extreme and subversive — the same snobbish caricature made of pro-lifers by ideologues of the Left. And religious conservatives in particular — our “values voters” — would do well to take a closer look at the company they are keeping.
Representative Steve King of Iowa, for example, is a solid pro-life vote every time and, just as dependably, an apologist for animal cruelty. He typifies a certain way of looking at animals that manages to be both lofty in tone and morally obtuse in practice. An influential member of the House Agriculture Committee, the man has opposed any kind of leniency for farm animals, dogs in puppy mills or dog-fight rings, birds used by cockfighters, horses bound for slaughter plants, exotic wildlife slain by big-game trophy hunters, any creature at all. All the while, he uses his pro-life principles as a pretext for doing nothing on behalf of animals, in a version of the abortion–cruelty connection that other conservatives have also traded on. The idea is that since the law does not now grant full protection to the unborn, any attempt to protect animal life is an expression of profoundly misplaced priorities, subversive to the sanctity of human life, an affront to Man in all his glory. The result of this high-minded stance? Glorious man, made in the image of God, can go back to his dog-fighting, cock-fighting, chick-grinding, hog torture, wolf slaughter, and general abuse of the animal world without being held to account.