Mitt Romney and Animal
It often seems as if sensitivity to the welfare
of animals resides in a gene that is randomly distributed, in varying levels
of intensity, throughout the human race. Those who have it get misty when
they watch “Old Yeller” or “Turner and Hooch,” forgo vacations to pay expensive
veterinary bills and find the concept of shooting a deer revolting. Those
who don’t have the gene would gladly mount tiger heads on their den walls,
make their dogs sleep outside in the winter and don’t even wince when they
hear the sound of mouse traps snapping down on their victims.
Does absence of that animal-loving gene have larger significance? Does
it mean, for example, that the person who secretly mocks the colleague
who is depressed for weeks over the death of his cat can’t be trusted,
or lacks other virtues? This question has national importance now that
it has been revealed that Republican Mitt Romney either is missing the
gene or has a funny way of showing his pets affection. The Boston Globe
disclosed this week that Romney put his Irish setter into a dog carrier
on the roof of his station wagon for a 12-hour family trip to Ontario
in 1983. A few hours into the trip, the dog apparently had an attack of
diarrhea (as often happens to me when I am locked into a small cage on
top of a speeding car), which Romney responded to by hosing down the soiled
back windshield and the dog, then putting “Seamus” back in his box on
top of the vehicle and finishing the trip.
This upsetting incident raises a number of questions which the Scoreboard
is ready to answer.
- Was this conduct cruelty to animals?
Of course. As such, it was also unethical, and quite probably illegal.
- Does it matter that the conduct occurred 24 years ago?
When evidence surfaced that former Senator George Allen behaved
like a bully and a racist in college, it was reasonable for his supporters
to argue that he had grown and matured in the intervening years, and
should not be judged on conduct so far in the past. Three factors argue
against being similarly lenient with Romney. First, he was no kid in
1983. Second, it can be argued that animal cruelty is not merely a matter
of attitude but of core character and values. Third, it became clear
during his re-election campaign in the so-called “macaca” incident that
Allen was still, if not a racist, a bully. A twenty-four year old incident
can still tell us a lot about an individual, particularly if there is
no intervening incident that demonstrates a change of heart.
- Is it fair to judge anyone based on one incident?
It is if the incident is sufficiently unusual. Some acts are so
revealing, having what baseball philosopher/analyst Bill James calls
“signature significance,” that they are the equivalents of a smoking
gun. It is nearly certain that no person who thinks of animals as having
feelings, deserving kindness, and not having an obligation to suffer
discomfort for the convenience of their human masters would ever put
a confined Irish Setter on the top of a car for 12 hours. This one incident,
all by itself, is strong proof that Mitt Romney’s conscience is not
bothered by cruelty to animals
including his own.
- Can a person who is cruel to animals be respectful, fair, wise
and ethical in his or her treatment of humans?
History tells us that the answer is yes. Hitler, after all, was very
kind to animals; it was just people he liked to kill. George Washington
was a genuinely ethical man with remarkable leadership qualities who
was nonetheless capable of great cruelty to human beings that
he regarded as the equivalent of animals—-his wife’s black slaves—before
experiencing a change of perspective later in his life. Yet one must
also acknowledge that cruelty to animals, especially in childhood, is
a frequent predictor of sociopathic behavior.
- Assuming Romney’s attitudes toward animals haven’t changed, should
the 1983 incident disqualify him as presidential stock?
Reluctantly, and with some misgivings, the Scoreboard verdict here
has to be no. Animal ethics are a murky area. Most ethical
systems only define themselves in terms of human relationships, and
the territory is littered with contradictions and hypocrisy. How much
can anyone who uses products that depend on live animal testing and
eats chicken, beef, pork and veal condemn Romney? Americans feel more
tenderly about dogs and cats than they do about food stock, but that
is a cultural quirk not based on any defensible logic. Without saying
that Romney is ethical, trustworthy, honest, kind and fair
where humans are concerned, the Scoreboard concludes that the fact that
he was willing to be callous toward a pet Irish Setter (more pangs of
doubt: is there another breed of dog that would be less happy
cooped up than an Irish Setter?) does not necessarily translate into
unethical conduct in human affairs. He is missing the animal-loving
gene, and that may be all.
For me personally, the incident is enough to convince me that I don’t
like the man, and probably never will. And my feelings as I look at the
sweet-tempered and loyal Jack Russell terrier now sleeping on my desk,
with his small head resting on my forearm, tell me that me that I would
write Rugby’s name on a ballot before I would give Mitt Romney my vote
for President of the United States. But that’s not an ethical decision,
only an emotional one.
on this article