If it is possible to give pro-life principles a bad name, little tyrants like Steve King are the ones who can do it. They are making excuses, not arguments. They are friends of power, not of life, serving no cause except human arrogance — in the spirit of what Governor Bob Casey used to call the Imperial Self. By showing such contempt for the healthy majority of voters in both parties who care about animals, they aren’t doing the Republican party any favors, either.
You can see where public opinion lies nearly every time animal-protection measures are placed directly before the people in statewide ballot initiatives — they win — and whenever public officials support reforms in law, invariably with strong public approval. In Congress, for instance, animals for the last 30 years have had no more faithful friend than Representative Christopher Smith of New Jersey, who has a perfect 100 percent Humane Society voting record to match his perfect National Right to Life record — including Smith’s recent co-sponsorship of a post-Gosnell reform to protect fetuses after 20 weeks, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Here is a pro-life champion worthy in every respect of that name, and, as he explained to me once, there is nothing complicated about caring simultaneously for the unborn child and the mistreated animal: “It’s the spirit of St. Francis.”
In New Mexico, likewise, Governor Susana Martinez has been battling for months to prevent a horse-slaughter plant from opening, a plant that the Obama administration has authorized. Doubtless Governor Martinez heard all the usual bluster from special pleaders in the livestock industry, all the ag-science BS and promises of political support. But perhaps because she is a former prosecutor, familiar with the creepy characters who show up in criminal courts on animal-abuse charges, she has the backbone and integrity to stand up against similar exploiters, who are no more respectable for having titles and wearing suits. And let every conservative do the same — rejecting “with detestation,” as C. S. Lewis put it, “that covert propaganda for cruelty which tries to drive mercy out of the world.”
“THE CAUSE OF THE WEAK”
I once ran some of these thoughts by Karl Rove, in Austin during the 2000 campaign, in a quick pitch for animal protection as an underrated and winning political issue, and, specifically, for a succinct animal-welfare plank in the convention platform that year: Large-scale cruelty is a matter of considerable moral and social consequence, just the sort of thing we compassionate conservatives should abhor — and “actively confront,” in the parlance of early Bush speeches — not to mention being entirely inconsistent with the kindly instincts of the candidate, a man also not given to euphemism. Indeed, one of the qualities I most admired in President Bush was a willingness at times to disregard the boundaries of conventional opinion, and to put matters in plain moral language regardless of who might feel uncomfortable or claim offense. We prided ourselves, in the speechwriting shop, in calling evil by its name, and not only the wickedness of terrorists, but also the cold and ruthless things done by others, like sex traffickers or reckless scientists, in the untended corners of civilized society.
So why not, I wondered, a statement of principle, somewhere in the vicinity of our pro-life credo, that the Republican party affirms that it is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly, and that we are therefore, as a matter of policy, opposed to unadvisable forms of domination over the natural world? Using the Catholic formulation, exactly as our party does on the life issue, and echoing the moral language of John Paul II himself, how could we go wrong? The idea got the patient hearing of a forbearing friend, and as I withdrew, the Architect offered that while he didn’t quite follow me on the animal thing, “Hey, man, at least you’re thinking outside the box. I like that!”
Thinking just a little farther outside the box: We might consider the possibility that the abortion culture and the culture of cruelty are maladies of like origin, arising from the same callous and unreasoning spirit, and that the many millions of Americans opposed to them, uneasy as they might sometimes make us feel, give testimony to the good news that terrible injustices can be overcome. Far from being opposites, pro-life and pro-animal advocates serve kindred ideals, pointing to places where nearly every one of us knows that humanity can do better and that it’s important to try, in movements — whatever else one might say about them — that are about as free of self-interest as political movements come. So many of the ideological struggles that preoccupy us are really just one group clawing for control or advantage over another, and feeling wronged and aggrieved when it fails. And that’s all fine, as long as we don’t forget what a real wrong looks like, keeping vigilant patrol over the borders that safeguard an imperfect but just society against chilling savagery. Defenders of the unborn and of animals are so relentless because they see that fundamental boundaries have been breached. By refusing to look away, by acting in solidarity with the defenseless and forgotten, they represent two of the great moral causes of our day, and among the greatest opportunities to do good in this world.