Topic: Society

Mitt Romney and Animal Cruelty

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.

  1. Was this conduct cruelty to animals?

    Of course. As such, it was also unethical, and quite probably illegal.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 animalsÂ…including his own.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

Comment on this article


Business & Commercial
Sports & Entertainment
Government & Politics
Science & Technology
Professions & Institutions

The Ethics Scoreboard, ProEthics, Ltd., 2707 Westminster Place, Alexandria, VA 22305
Telephone: 703-548-5229    E-mail: ProEthics President

© 2007 Jack Marshall & ProEthics, Ltd     Disclaimers, Permissions & Legal Stuff    Content & Corrections Policy