Monday, September 15, 2008

Obama vs. McCain on Animals & the Environment: Round 1

Barack Obama: Democratic candidate for President of the United States of America

After my last post regarding Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin's record on animals and the environment, I figured I should take a broader look at where the two Presidential candidates stand on animals and the environment, because of course the top of the ticket is really where it's at. Basically, I am concerned with whether Obama or McCain would better serve the interests of other species, from farm animals to wildlife, if elected. (In the interest of journalistic credulity, this is a good time to mention that I support Obama, but that I nevertheless strive to objectively convey my take on the available facts.)

I'm currently reading the recently-published Obama campaign book Change We Can Believe In: Barack Obama's Plan to Renew America's Promise, which is basically a blueprint for what he wants to do as President. Here's one excerpt that is worth the consideration of animal welfare advocates:

“Give Family Farmers the Stability They Need to Thrive"

"Barack Obama believes that our farm programs and supports should go to help family farmers—not large agricultural companies—survive and thrive. As President, he will fight for farm programs that are targeted directly at family farmers, giving them the stability and predictability they need to succeed. An Obama Administration will support an effective payment limitation of $250,000 so taxpayers aren't underwriting big agribusiness. Most important, it will close the loopholes that allow mega-farms to get around the limits by subdividing their operations into multiple paper corporations. Finally, an Obama Administration will make agriculture disaster assistance permanent.”

Helping small-scale family farms by withdrawing the unfair advantages that have allowed agribusiness conglomerates to dominate the marketplace for decades would likely lead to improved animal welfare, as much of the suffering on factory farms is due not only to their standard mechanized production methods, but also their size. That is, factory farms are not only more likely to use battery cages and gestation crates, for example, but their massive scale inherently devalues the lives of individual animals, who, for “practical” economic reasons, are therefore much less likely to receive veterinary care than those raised on smaller family-owned farms. Statistically speaking, factory farms are responsible for a lot more animal abuse, cruelty and suffering than family farms that, comparatively, at least remain rooted in some semblance of traditional animal husbandry.

Leveling the playing field will also help family farms to compete successfully without being forced into adopting intensive factory farm methods by a fixed market system that rewards the biggest producers (simply because they can afford to hire lobbyists), a development that most animal protection advocates would support. However, some are uncomfortable choosing sides here because both of them are essentially exploiting animals for profit, even as many more animal protectionists have already aligned themselves with family farmers against some of factory farming's worst abuses. A prime example of this is Prop 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, which is endorsed by numerous family farmers, and will be on the ballot in California this November.

Further on in the book, a section entitled Safeguard the Environment for Future Generations begins:

“Just as it's critical that we stop the planet from warming, it's also important that we protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil in which we plant our crops. Doing so is the basis of a sacred trust we must safeguard for our children and grandchildren; their health and their well-being depend on it. For too long, too many in Washington have sought to divide us over these issues, arguing that we could only either protect the environment or grow our economy. Barack Obama rejects that false choice.”

In addition to explaining how Obama plans to clean up America's air and water, this section addresses restoring wetlands, helping Western states meet water demands, reducing poisons like mercury and lead, holding polluters accountable, and environmental justice. Obama’s energy and environment plans are also laid out in detail on his website.

Killer Conservation

However, most animal advocates will be disappointed by the following section entitled “Honor Sportsmen and Protect the Great Outdoors,” which speaks of “the great conservation legacy of America's hunters and anglers.” The section goes on to support Second Amendment rights, expanding access for hunters and anglers to public lands, and preserving habitats for “sportsmen” – and animals, by proxy, so these self-styled “athletes” can have someone to “compete” against (i.e., kill).

OK, so Obama's not exactly the ideal animal protection candidate, but at the same time, realize that Obama has never himself gone hunting, and that not all hunters are the same: meaning—no matter how hard it may be for us animal advocates to accept—many hunters do genuinely care about conservation. At least these “moderate” hunting advocates enter the wilderness with some pretext of responsible stewardship – especially when compared with their much more extreme counterparts.

For example, the hunters Obama refers to are those who would ostensibly abhor the aerial hunting of wolves in Alaska, canned hunts and the delisting of polar bears under the Endangered Species Act. Aside from their penchant for shooting innocent wild animals, these hunters share some crucial common ground with animal advocates and environmentalists in that they want to preserve wildlands (even if it is, primarily, to satisfy their own violent recreational desires) and reject the worst excesses of those hunters who (like McCain’s running mate, for instance) glory in the most abjectly cruel types of animal slaughter.

Oil Under the Ice

Notably, as far as oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is concerned, Obama says he would consider "a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage." Many critics of oil drilling in ANWR argue that it won't lower gas prices but merely despoil one of America's greatest natural treasures at the behest of oil profiteers. Already, over 500 toxic spills occur in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay oil fields and pipelines each year: do we really want to expose one of the last remaining truly pristine places in the US to this?

Also notable is that Obama's position is actually the moderate one in this Presidential race. Considering the possibility of resource development in the ANWR is a world of difference from the unofficial slogan of the Republican National Convention, where chants of "Drill, baby, drill!" broke out amongst the crowd. Kinda ironic, actually, since, as of press time, McCain opposes drilling in the ANWR, but his VP pick who governs the state it's in wants to drill the hell out of it. What it basically comes down to for me is, I'm on the side of the polar bears, birds, caribou, and other animals living in the ANWR who obviously wouldn't want people and machines invading their habitat and leaving poisons in their wake.

Dog Due Do

When asked by a woman at a Las Vegan town hall meeting about his stance on animal rights, Obama quipped that he cares very much about them, and “not only because I have a 9-year-old and 6-year-old who want a dog.” A flip answer, to be sure, on a serious topic that has never really been part of any election year dialogue, but at least he had a positive response and seems open minded about the concept. Even so, his reference to children and dogs also raises the question of whether Obama fully understands the true meaning and full implications of animal rights, and what his stance would be if he did.

Anyhow, the Obamas, displaying responsibility as parents and impending guardians, promised their daughters a dog after the campaigning is done. More than 42,000 people cast their votes for what breed they thought would be best for the family, and the poodle won. Whatever breed the Obamas do choose to adopt come November, the American Kennel Club has offered to “assist them in responsibly acquiring a puppy or adult rescue dog.”

Some animal advocates started campaigns to encourage the Obamas to adopt a mixed-breed, the biggest dog on the animal rights block to do so being PETA president Ingrid Newkirk. In a letter to the Obamas, she wrote that “This country is proud to be a melting pot, and there is something deeply wrong and elitist about wanting only a purebred dog." Obviously, she’s got a point there. After all, “Millions of Great American Mutts—the dog that should be our national dog—are set to die in our nation’s extremely overcrowded pounds and shelters for lack of good homes."

(On a side note, the Palin family also lacks a dog, so maybe someone will start a campaign recommending the breed that best fits her particular personality…ok, all you canine cosmetologists out there, I assume you know where I’m going with this, so I’m gonna stop now...)

Obama’s Other Animal Actions

According to the blog Vegan Soapbox, Obama “is considered a strong candidate on animal rights issues.” For example:

- As a US Senator, he co-sponsored legislation to stop horse slaughter, saying “I think how we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other, and it’s very important that we have a president who is mindful of the cruelty that is perpetrated on animals.” He also voted to upgrade federal penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting, and to criminalize possession of fighting dogs as well as dogfight attendance.

- He signed a letter requesting increased funds for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, the Humane Slaughter Act and federal laws against animal fighting. He also wrote a letter to the National Zoo in Washington, DC expressing concern for the health of Toni, an elephant who was subsequently euthanized in 2006 at the age of 38 due to captivity-related causes.

- In his response to a questionnaire by the Humane Society Legislative Fund, Obama pledged support for almost every animal protection bill currently pending in Congress, and says he will collaborate with executive agencies like the USDA to make their policies more humane.

In Conclusion

I still plan to write Round 2 of this entry – that is, an analysis of John McCain’s record on animals and the environment. Sorry to be a spoiler, but I’ve already absorbed quite a lot of information about the candidates (from partisan, bi-partisan and non-partisan sources, as well as the two competing campaigns), and feel confident in saying that the animal advocacy and environmental movements will be much better off with the Democrats in this election cycle. Legislative report cards based on the candidates’ records and positions seem to bear this assertion out:

- On the Humane Society Legislative Fund's most recent Humane Scorecard, Obama got a rating of 75 (as did Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Joe Biden), whereas McCain got a 25.

- The League of Conservation Voters, on their 2007 Congressional Scorecard, gave McCain a score of zero for his voting record in the Senate on environmental issues, whereas Obama scored 67 out of 100.

- The Sierra Club strongly endorses Obama over McCain in the election, and released a Presidential Scorecard that provides a side-by-side comparison of the candidates on energy and the environment.

- The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund officially announced their endorsement of Obama/Biden with a scathing press release blasting McCain for picking "the notoriously anti-environmental Palin" as his running mate, and calling his conservation voting record "mediocre at best, often erratic, and clearly inferior to that of either Obama or Biden."

Across the board, actually—from the economy and the war in Iraq to foreign policy and civil liberties—Obama is the clear choice in this election for progressives (and anyone else who's still sane after two Bush terms) …unless, of course, you want to go third party (and hey, I readily admit, I’m a registered Green who voted for Nader/LaDuke in 2000). If you live in California (or any other sure-shot Blue State), your vote pretty much doesn’t count, given the Electoral College system, because (fortunately) Obama’s gonna kick ass in our little corner of Neverland. But if you or someone you know lives in one of the swing states, please—I beg of you!—vote or urge your friend to vote carefully in full consciousness of the consequences for the animals, America and the world.


  1. Defenders of Wildlife's Action Fund also has endorsed Obama and Biden:

  2. Thanks Tracy for the tip: I've added something about this endorsement to the post under the Sierra Club bullet.

  3. Anonymous9:08 AM

    Great article. I am currently torn between Obama and McCain, but I believe that in the end, this issue will be the make or break issue for me.


  4. Anonymous3:45 PM

    I am eager to see your McCain comparison. How soon?

  5. Thanks yessng. I started the McCain and Obama posts simultaneously, but they are both so long I figured it best to break them into parts. Plus I am continuing my research on McCain's record, and I've got some other writing to do for my day jobs right now, so I figure I'll post the McCain analysis in a week or so.

    Thanks for your interest,


  6. Anonymous4:45 AM

    My horse tells me to vote for whoever will stop NAIS.

    NAIS(national animal identification system) is a business plan that will require every last person who owns even one farm animal (even as a pet) to
    1. register their premises with the govt. (currently only convicted sex offenders have to do this and doing this step may put title to property in jeopardy)
    2. microchip all their critters (cost will not be cheap and cancer is a concern with any microchip)
    3. file birth, death and movement reports on those animals within 24 hrs or face huge fines (in America????)
    4. face depopulation (killing) of all animals in a 6 mi. radius should disease be suspected.

    The NAIS business plan was made to benefit corporate ag so they can sell meat on the global market, like to Japan. I have nothing against that. But, because I own a horse, I have been included, against my will, in a business that I want nothing to do with, yet I will be expected to fund and follow rules, (in which I had no input) that I think are unfair, burdensome and go against my constitutional rights and on top of everything, I will receive absolutely none of the profits that big ag makes.

    So you will understand where I am coming from, let me explain it like this ...

    What if I had a mega business, say selling cars all over the world, and I wanted to show the world my clunkers have no mechanical problems, but I know they I write a business plan that on the surface would show prospective clients that these cars are the best and run great and are safe to drive. Here is how I got around that. I wrote the plans including YOU to be part of it just because you happen to own a vehicle. Not one I built, but it is a vehicle. I never asked you nor even care what you think. But while I get to have my cars, buy them, sell them and take them anywhere I want with very few restrictions, I made rules that require YOU to to tell the govt everywhere you go, microchip the car, because I see I can make money off of it (microchip companies are in the planning of NAIS, too) and since I have so many cars, I made the rules where I get special considerations that will save me money. Then I make up some cover story that claims by YOU following all the rules in MY plan, it will somehow help save the environment or be good for the safety of all who drive cars. And it will look to the world buyers of my cars that good intervention plans are in place to keep those cars safe.

    Get it now?

    But we are told that NAIS is about tracking disease and keeping our food supply safe....sorry, that is not so. NAIS is a business plan, says so right on the cover. The part about tracking disease was added later to make it more acceptable to the public.

    Besides, NAIS tracking ends at time of slaughter. Most food safety issues occur AFTER that, during processing. “One of the big goals of NAIS is to shift liability to the farmers and off of the packers and retail chain. This is despite the fact that virtually all food contamination happens at the slaughterhouse and beyond. Ultimately the goal of the mega food corporations is consolidation and control by destroying the small farmers thus limiting consumer choice”..

    There are already disease tracking protocol in place, and they work just fine. Have for many decades.

    Agri biz gets ONE lot number per groups of animals, any one of which could be sick and who would know... while the rest of us have to tag/track every animal individually and pay for it both in money to buy the chips and scanners and time taken to report births, deaths and off property movements within the 24 hour time period or face those huge daily fines. Even gun owners do not have to report every when and where they take their guns.

    NAIS fascist/communist ideology language claims it must protect the "national herd". One of the early reasons the USDA claimed we needed NAIS was to track and ferret out BSE even though those few cases were found and dealt with without NAIS. But when Creekstone Beef wanted to test every cow they process for BSE, the USDA says they could not!!! They claimed it would cost too much money and that everyone else would have to do it too.
    see for more info.

  7. Great round-up and investigation! Thanks for pulling this all together.

    (Hopefully, I'll see Obama today at a rally!)

  8. Very helpful overview. Thanks for doing this.

  9. Anonymous9:58 PM

    Obama has already made lending for middle and lower class citizens before he's in the white house! Amazing, read more below..

    New Types of Low Interest Loans & Grants from Obama