Is it a contradiction for conservatives to be pro-animal rights?
That's a good question. Today, I was reading a an article on Salon.com about longtime St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who says he likes certain things about the Tea Party Movement and supports Arizona's tough immigration law. Yet the Salon article refers to La Russa as an "animal rights crusader."
Actually, if you read the article carefully and you're at all familiar with the animal rights movement, I don't know if it's accurate to call La Russa an "animal rights crusader." He runs a shelter for abandoned animals called Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation. It's a wonderful group that does a lot to help animals. Its mission statement reads:
ARF saves dogs and cats who have run out of time at public shelters and brings people and animals together to enrich each others lives. ARF strives to create a world where every loving dog and cat has a home, where every lonely person has a companion animal, and where children learn to care.
I don't know if I'd call that exactly a militant animal rights organization. It's a far cry from the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). But it is great to see La Russa active, engaged and saving animals.
Generally speaking, I think most animal rights activists tend to be either lefties or else apolitical on other matters. But I have noticed on Facebook a growing number of pro-vegan, pro-animal rights types who identify their politics as "conservative" or describe themselves as Republicans.
If you think about it, there isn't anything inherently right-wing or left-wing about animal rights. Some elements of it dovetail quite nicely with leftist politics - its focus on helping the "voiceless," liberating animals and the dignity of all living creatures. There is also a strongly anti-corporate undercurrent to the movement, especially in the way it attacks businesses that exploit and commodify animals.
But there are also aspects of it that fit in quite nicely with a more conservative agenda: the emphasis on each individual animal, on the sanctity of life (appealing to pro-lifers) and ending cruelty - which is something that can appeal to all people across the spectrum.
So it doesn't really surprise me entirely to see some vegan and pro-animal rights Facebookers listing their political beliefs as "conservative" or "Republican."
That said, if I had to take a guess - and I do not have any hard evidence to back this up - I would say that most pro-animal rights folks are either on the left or centrist on other issues. Some animal rights leftists insist on linking the cause to issues of human rights, the economy, globalization, other protest struggles, etc. A perfect example of this type of individual could be found on the streets of Toronto in late June protesting the G20 Summit. These folks sought to link animal rights to other issues (globalization, poor people's movements, the environment, etc.).
Then there are the more cautious, single-issue types - moderates, centrists, etc. - who don't wish to muddy the water by introducing issues that seem to them to have little to do with animal rights.
When it comes to politics, I've always been a left-libertarian coalition builder. I believe you have to unite different types of people - left, right, center - around a shared agenda and common concerns. So I welcome conservatives into the animal rights fold, even as I disagree with them on a multitude of other issues. I imagine most contemporary conservatives - at least in the United States - are probably like Sarah Palin: they love their meat and dairy and other animal products and do not wish to give all that up. And believe you me, I have seen the way PETA types routinely get skewered on the Fox News Channel. It ain't pretty. Trust me.
Still, anyone who sees the light should be welcomed into this movement. It is a big tent. And the struggle for animal rights needs all the support it can get.