Tuesday, January 25, 2011

State of the Animal Union: Not Much to Be Thrilled About

U.S. President Barack Obama used his State of the Union Address to help heal wounds and bridge deep divisions in the United States. He emphasized America's gradual economic recovery, referred to a plan to help military families, and spoke of the need for Americans to rise above their political differences. The following passage was fairly typical:
Amid all the noise and passions and rancor of our public debate, (the Tucson, Ariz., shooting) reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater — something more consequential than party or political preference. We are part of the American family. (Source)

Obama has come under a lot of fire from his critics on the right, no doubt about it. Meantime, those on the other end of the political spectrum tend to circle the wagons around the president and praise his performance in the White House, warts and all.

There aren't many people who are taking the president - or any political leaders, for that matter, Democrat or Republican - to task over the federal government's terrible policies on animals. In fact, when it comes to the issue of animal rights, you'd have a hard time making an argument that one of the political parties in the United States is any better than the other.

Sure, you'll run into the occasional elected official who has made animal rights and/or veganism an issue. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is a prime example. He's a vegan, and a very proud one at that. I'm sure if you racked your brain you could come up with some others.

But animals are not really on the agenda of either political party. The Obama administration has done no more to help (or hurt) animals than the Bush administration. Government subsidies continue to go to factory farms under Obama, just as they did under his predecessors. Meanwhile, the federal government is notorious for failing to protect animals. This is as true under Obama as it was under Bush. In many cases, animals are actually harmed by government policies. Take, for example, the announcement just a few days before Obama's State of the Union address that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) admitted it was responsible for poisoning hundreds of birds in South Dakota. The reason? The birds were targeted because they were eating food at a Nebraska feedlot and leaving their droppings there, too. (Source)

And then there's the Obama administration's policy of rounding up wild horses, which was noted very eloquently on the blog Straight from the Horse's Heart:
While thousands of Americans lost their homes and tens of thousands lost their jobs the Obama administration was spending millions of dollars chasing wild horses, killing some and penning up the rest with no regard to science, proper research or the bottom line.

Sad as it is to say, most liberals aren't any more "progressive" than conservatives when it comes to animals and their well-being. One would think that left-leaning folks, with their emphasis on the "underdog," would be natural allies for the animal rights struggle. Some are, no question about it.

But many aren't. I read a dreadful piece in the left-wing Nation magazine last month, written by Melissa Harris-Perry (professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton), about football player Michael Vick, notorious for his involvement in a dogfighting ring. Oddly, Harris-Perry used her bully pulpit as an opportunity to slam the Animal Rights Movement for not being sensitive to racial issues. At one point, Harris-Perry wrote:
Not only have animals been used as weapons against black people, but many African Americans feel that the suffering of animals evokes more empathy and concern among whites than does the suffering of black people. For example, in the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina dozens of people sent me a link to an image of pets being evacuated on an air conditioned bus. This image was a sickening juxtaposition to the conditions faced by tens of thousands of black residents trapped by the storm and it provoked great anger and pain for those who sent it to me. (Source)
The column was a cheap shot, obviously written by someone who has no awareness whatsoever about the Animal Rights Movement, or the fact that it has numerous African American adherents, both famous and not-so famous.

In December, when Obama gave the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles a high five for giving Michael Vick another chance, the president of the United States made a very deliberate decision that sent out a clear message. The message: Obama doesn't care about the dogs that Vick abused. By extension, it could be argued, he doesn't give much of a damn about animals.

There are some people who are hoping Obama will experience an epiphany or a change of heart on the issue. In Utah, kind-hearted Francis Battista runs the Best Friends Animal Society, which took in many of Michael Vick's traumatized Pit Bulls. The caring folks at Best Friends are now rehabilitating these amazing dogs back to good health and wholeness. The photo (above) was taken at the Society and originally appeared in USA Today. Volunteers at the Best Friends sanctuary have taken to calling the sweet and inspiring rescued Pit Bulls the "Vicktory Dogs" (a play on Vick's name). Battista announced in December that he is waiting for a telephone call of support from Barack Obama, in the wake of Obama giving the Philadelphia Eagles owner the high five. As Battista noted:

While we no longer wait by the phone for a call from Mr. Vick asking after his dogs, the likelihood of a call from the president has brought new esprit to the switchboard team and I've put together some notes on those we call the Vicktory dogs in case someone puts the historic call through to me by mistake. The conversation will go something like this: "Mr. President, what a surprise! Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to commend us for giving the Vicktory dogs a second chance. Sure, I've got a few minutes to fill you in..." Kind of a presidential briefing, I guess. (Source)

Here it is, late January, and that phone call hasn't come yet. If I could give one piece of advice to Battista, it would be this: Don't hold your breath.

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