Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Obama vs. McCain on Animals & the Environment: Round 2

Senator John McCain - Republican candidate for President of the United States of America

In September, I posted an entry on Senator Barack Obama's position vis-à-vis animals and the environment. This second installment in that two-part series examines Senator John McCain's record on these important issues. Those who've read Round 1 know that I've already personally endorsed Obama/Biden as the ticket most likely to result in positive outcomes for animals and the environment: here is a more comprehensive explanation for that choice.

Animal Issues: A Chequered Record

There have been notable instances in Senator McCain's career when he stood up for animals. For instance, he voted against a $2 million subsidy for the fur industry, co-sponsored the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, and supported bills to stop interstate trafficking of birds for cockfighting and the killing of bears harvested for their organs. Even so, his record on animal issues is inconsistent and sometimes nonexistent.

To begin with, McCain has yet to issue any public statements on animal protection issues, according to the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF). He also neglected to fill out the HSLF's presidential questionnaire, which seeks to tabulate the candidates' positions on a variety of animal welfare legislation proposals currently before Congress. In contrast, Senator Obama not only responded to the questionnaire, but pledged support for virtually every pending pro-animal bill.

The HSLF also claims that Senator McCain “has been largely absent on other issues, and has failed to support a large number of priority bills or sign onto animal protection letters that have broad support in the Senate.” When a groundbreaking Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) video investigation brought the issue of downed farm animals into the presidential debates earlier this year, Obama stated that “the mistreatment of downed cows is unacceptable and poses a serious threat to public health,” but McCain remained conspicuously silent. McCain also recently delivered the keynote address at a rally for the US Sportsmen's Alliance, an organization that actively promotes trophy hunting of threatened species and canned hunting of animals in fenced enclosures from which they cannot escape. Online research has not enabled me to determine whether or not McCain himself actually hunts animals: if anyone has a citation with the answer, please post a comment here. However, he goes fishing on the artificial lake on his property (at least for PR purposes).

McCain's choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate convinced the HSLF to issue their first-ever endorsement of a presidential candidate – for Barack Obama. The HSLF is urging animal advocates to vote Democrat not only because “McCain's positions on animal protection have been lukewarm,” but primarily because “(Palin's) record is so extreme that she has perhaps done more harm to animals than any current governor in the United States.” The organization also asserts that “If Palin is put in a position to succeed McCain, it could mean rolling back decades of progress on animals issues,” an assessment that mirrors what I posted about Palin here in this blog soon after she was nominated.

The Pet Vote: McCain Wins Paws Down

According to an AP-Yahoo! News poll, “pet owners favor McCain over Obama 42 percent to 37 percent, with dog owners particularly in McCain's corner.” And really, given the number of companion animals he and his wife Cindy have, it's no wonder. “There’s no denying John McCain is an animal lover,” writes a dog blogger named Jenna. “With fourteen dogs, six cats, two turtles, three birds, fourteen fish and a ferret, he far surpasses the average number of pets per household.”

Wow, that's a lot of animals! I assume the family has staff who do the majority of caretaking, because the Senator and his wife are obviously very busy people who spend a lot of time on the road (and have at least seven houses around the country). Even so, I sincerely hope that the McCain's truly love and appreciate every one of the animals in their various homes. I also hope that that they adopted their animals rather than purchasing them from breeders, because millions of homeless animals are put to death in shelters every year, but I cannot find the answer to this question online.

Meanwhile, as I mentioned in Round 1, the Obama family doesn't yet have any pets: they plan to adopt a dog (at the behest of their two young daughters) after the election is done. Does this mean McCain likes animals more than Obama does? I have no idea. However, let's remember that it's not the number of animals a person has that really matters, but the attitude he/she has towards them. That is, animal lovers fundamentally respect members of other species as sentient beings capable of thought and deep emotional connection (even though many seem to think dogs somehow differ from, say, cows in this regard). It would be interesting and perhaps enlightening to find out how both McCain and Obama view animals.

Agricultural Subsidies 

According to a May 19, 2008 McCain campaign press release
, the Arizona Senator has “vowed to aid small farmers by targeting agricultural tariffs and subsidies doled out to agribusiness”: If I am elected president,” he told members of National Restaurant Association in Chicago, “I will seek an end to all agricultural tariffs, and to all farm subsidies that are not based on clear need. I will veto any bill containing special-interest favors and corporate welfare in any form. Regarding “the billions of dollars in subsidies served up every five years to corporate farmers, McCain said The original idea was to provide a buffer to small farmers in tough times and to assure a stable supply of food for our country. But nowadays, the small farmers have been forgotten, and instead the Congress sends a steady supply of subsidies to agribusiness.

So, at least from what they say, it seems that the Republican and Democratic candidates have similar views on agricultural subsidies, with Obama actually taking a somewhat more moderate stance on the Farm Bill (which McCain said he would have vetoed) that has played well in critical rural swing states like Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio. Both McCain and Obama have posted their plans to help family farmers on their websites, but Obama’s is by far the more in-depth (with McCain’s limited to just two paragraphs). The most notable difference between them on farming issues is that Obama strongly supports government investment in the development of renewable plant-based alternative fuels like ethanol, whereas McCain has set his shoulder squarely against this new industry (and has therefore been accused of shilling for Big Oil).

Ultimately, I don't know whether McCain or Obama would better serve the cause of animals on the issue of agricultural subsidization (though I do think we need to develop ethanol to some extent as a fuel source). I encourage readers who have additional insights to post their comments on this blog.


On the McCain website one can find the candidate’s statements on environmental stewardship and climate change. But based on the many discrepancies between his statements and fact throughout his political career and presidential campaign (more on that below), I don’t believe McCain can be taken at his word on anything. This impression is confirmed by many others who have already done the work of digging more deeply beneath the surface of McCain’s environmental resumé.

For instance, Green Piece Blog posted a very thorough and wide-ranging critique entitled “McCain vs. McCain on the Environment” that compares and contrasts the Senator’s past record on conservation with his positions as a presidential candidate. Their conclusion: “McCain has abandoned his past moderate environmental views and adopted the much less environmentally friendly platform of his party. It seems pretty clear from this well-documented analysis that a McCain Administration would further despoil the planet and endanger those trying to live on it.

“The Reality-Based Community”

“…guys like you are in what we call the 'reality-based community.' ... But that's not the way the world really works now. We're an empire of sorts, and when we act, we create our own reality. ... We're history's actors, who are willing to do what's needed, and you can study what we do.”

- Anonymous Bush aide to journalist Ron Suskind in 2002

I provide this quote, as a proud citizen of the “reality-based community” (hello fellow residents!), because John McCain has been lying so much lately (and so knowingly, so repeatedly) that I find it hard to believe anything he says at all. Seriously, his libelous attack ads (orchestrated by Karl Rove’s protégé), along with the insulting doublespeak spouted by both he and Palin, transcend shamelessness and border on the treasonous. Because our country faces pressing problems (economic collapse, rising unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, the war, oil dependence, global warming, etc.) that threaten the nation’s very foundations, I submit that strategically reviving the Culture Wars to deliberately distract voters from the real issues is a traitorous betrayal of the American people, as well as America herself.

To us Americans living in the real world—where facts, knowledge and judgment actually mean something—McCain’s candidacy is looking sad: watching, listening to or reading about him is severely depressing. Having to see his face and hear his delusional crap for the next four years would drive me mad. Every night I'd have to go to bed wondering, what crazy catastrophe will I read about in tomorrow's news? And will the nightmare of President Palin actually come to life?

Now, that’s “only” my opinion, but it’s an informed opinion based on some amount of research, deliberation and soul-searching. I emphasize this because I had stated in Round 1 of this series my sincere intention to objectively evaluate the candidates. I firmly believe that, along with a review of McCain's record, incorporating some analysis of his willfully deceptive campaign tactics is absolutely essential to understanding the potentially devastating implications of a McCain presidency.

In Conclusion

Anyway, there's my two cents on the election. I hope these posts leave readers better informed than they were before about what is at stake for animals and the environment, as well as our country and the world. Choosing the next leader of our nation is a complex and multi-faceted decision, and I respect that many folks consider it a very personal matter. While I do not condone single-issue voting, I hope readers will carefully weigh these important facts when they enter polling booths in November, and ensure that family and friends know the difference between McCain and Obama on animals, the environment and other crucial issues before they cast their ballots.