Who Will Stand Up for Animals?
On the scale of issues most important to voters, animal rights probably ranks somewhere near the bottom.
Animals don’t vote. So why would our furry friends be a topic of political discussion? Why would any candidate have a stated position on animals? Answer: Because it’s the right thing to do.
For me, one of the benchmarks of a person’s character is how they view and treat animals. This viewpoint is non-negotiable. I believe our treatment of animals represents the ultimate manifestation of human empathy. There’s nothing tangible to gain from being kind to an animal, so kindness is truly an act of sincere compassion. In fact, one could argue in a very primordial sense that animals fuel humankind’s most selfish needs and desires. It’s even counter-intuitive to have affection for most animals. After all, from our earliest times, animals have been used for transportation, strength, security, entertainment, and of course, food. Many are a nuisance. Some are even dangerous. Advancing their rights generally requires severing that traditional relationship between man and beast and demands an adjustment of how we view other creatures.
Over the next several paragraphs, I could list many reasons why people should care about the treatment of animals, even going so far as to make it a political issue. I could appeal to the heartstrings and tell stories of horrible abuse or post links to videos, which remain all too frightening and unfortunately all too common. I could make a more intellectual argument in favor of animal rights, pointing out that our care and treatment of other creatures portends how we interact with each other. People who are mean to animals often tend to be mean to people. People who are good to animals often tend to be good to people. That sounds simple, but it’s true. By the way, based on my experiences, compassion for animals generally cuts across lines of gender, race, income, and even political affiliation. I might argue convincingly that liberals are more sympathetic towards animals rights because we view those protections as a rightful government function and humanitarian responsibility. But I too have met many conservatives who are very pro-animal rights, including some reading this right now.
Instead, I’ll use this platform simply to point out there’s only one major candidate in the 2016 presidential election with an entire webpage devoted to the issue of animal rights who has also spoken about it on the campaign trail. For others in the field, it’s not even on their radar. They are either indifferent towards animals, or decided perhaps that the issue isn’t important enough to be a concern to their voters. But again, one candidate sees the issue of animals rights as a priority and an opportunity to educate.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Bernie Sanders is the strongest pro-animal rights candidate of them all. He has consistently voted on behalf of legislation which protects the rights of animals, and has even called for stiffer penalties against those who are so wicked that they harm animals needlessly. I think this stance should be both recognized, and applauded. By everyone. Yes, by everyone — including those who do not support him.
I was surprised to learn that Sanders received a perfect voting score as a former congressman and current senator from the Humane Society Legislation Fund (HSLF), which regularly monitors and grades candidates. This surprised me a lot because Sanders represents the rural, largely farming state of Vermont. Most agricultural states produce legislators tethered to special interests and lobbyists who have no regard for animal rights, instead favoring mass federal deregulation which favors companies and corporations profiting from industrial food production. Despite representing a state heavily dependent upon farming and animals as means of production (dairy, for instance) Sanders scored a perfect “100” on a list of bills which have come before the congress.
To her credit, Hillary Clinton also scored relatively high, although she’s not nearly as pro-animal as Sanders. As for Republicans, their scores were appalling. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio both scored a “12,” a dismally low rating revealing that the welfare of animals isn’t just not a priority. They’re actually against the overwhelming majority of legislative initiatives designed to improve the care of animals and enhance food and safety.
A discussion of the candidates wouldn’t be complete without a comment or two on Donald Trumps’ position. Aside from blathering during last night’s “victory speech,” which turned into an infomercial for something called “Trump Steaks” (which are actually raised and processed by an outside company in Florida, which pays Trump a royalty in order to use his name as a “brand” — another of his flaming heap of falsehoods), Trump has no legislative record nor any notable position on animals rights because he’s never held elected office. However, his two sons have actively engaged in big game hunts in Africa on numerable occasions, which included the killings of an elephant, and other wild creatures. To be fully fair and accurate, Trump distanced himself from his children’s
sadism cruelty, stating: “My sons love hunting. They’re hunters and they’ve become good at it. I am not a believer in hunting and I’m surprised they like it.”
An added side note: These rankings aren’t kind to Libertarians, and libertarian philosophy. Since candidates like Rand Paul believe strongly in very limited government and virtually no federal regulations on individuals or businesses, they oppose virtually all legislative initiatives designed to improve the welfare of animals. No surprise — the HSLF also gave a low score to Paul.
Fortunately, animal rights is increasingly becoming a concern of many voters. I expect animal welfare as a viable political issue will continue gaining traction, which in the long run will help the animal-victims of so much negligence and mistreatment.
So, before many of you bash and burn Bernie Sanders, you might want to take a few moments to reflect on precisely who has stood up for the rights of animals for his entire career. Then please, by all means, go back to petting your dog and cat while criticizing him as a “socialist.”