It's only been a few days since Sarah Palin was nominated to run for Vice President of the United States, but I've already received dozens of emails from animal rights and vegetarian groups opposing her. Those emails portray her, quite honestly from what I can tell, as a passionate hunter and fur wearer who opposes protection for polar bears, likes to decorate with dead animals, and supports eradication of wolves with airplanes and high-powered rifles.
My guess is that Governor Palin probably doesn't mind these email assassinations of her character at all. Sure, the McCain ticket will probably lose some votes from animal lovers, but the image of having a gun-slinging cowboy for a Vice President (remember the old TV show Maverick?) will probably attract lots more votes than it loses.
I am personally plenty offended by Ms. Palin's beliefs and actions with respect to animals, but that's okay. I've offended lots of folks myself by espousing veganism over the years. One of the wonderful things about our country is that no one has the right not to be offended. The First Amendment guarantees it. The Governor can believe and say anything she wants, and that's what makes life in the good old U.S. of A always interesting. That's also what makes our political system so entertaining, and often so frustrating.
The real question for the election is not whether someone has the right to say or believe one thing or another—of course they do, and thank goodness we all agree on that. No, the real question for the election is whether those beliefs will negatively affect their ability to govern. "Reasonable" minds may differ on polar bear legislation or what constitutes "sport" in hunting. I'm not so worried about that. The majority of the people will decide what they decide on those issues, and that's how it should be. I think Ms. Palin's beliefs and behavior, though, tell us something even more important about her. I think they tell us that she lacks compassion and empathy, and that's where I have the problem.
Please know that I am not talking about all hunters here. I've known plenty of hunters who were wonderful, caring people. They knew what they were doing, they ate what they killed, and they had respect for wildlife (…though obviously not much respect for the individual animals that they killed). Their venison dinners caused much less suffering than a suburban hockey mom picking up KFC for the family. My friends who were hunters didn't wear fur. They didn't chase wolves with airplanes.
I personally don't think that people, like Sarah Palin, who find great entertainment and personal ego in killing and exploiting animals are wired for compassion and empathy. I doubt that in dealing with human animals their feelings are going to be much different, and for a politician that's a serious problem. We live in a much smaller world than we did when Teddy Roosevelt was President. (Who, by the way, would have made a great running mate for Ms. Palin!) The United States can't go it alone anymore. To effectively solve the world's many problems, our leaders have to work with others and understand the plight of the oppressed. They have to put themselves in the shoes of those who disagree with them, and see issues from all different viewpoints. In other words, an important prerequisite for the job should be the very compassion and empathy Sarah Palin lacks. The world has already had too many leaders who prefer shooting things from airplanes; what we need now are leaders who can use the tools of dialog and understanding.
I find Governor Palin's current popularity terribly sad. Sure it's sad for the animals in question, but it's sad for people and our society as well. It's sad that, in an era when politicians bend over backwards to be politically correct, it's still okay for someone running for the second-highest office in the land to publically portray herself as an animal abuser. I guess what's morally correct doesn't become politically correct until enough voters care about it. Thomas Jefferson could get elected President despite a sadly small minority of people objecting to the fact that he was a slave owner, and now, two hundred years later, Sarah Palin might well be elected Vice President despite a sadly small minority of people objecting to the fact that she mistreats animals.
I know I shouldn't be sad. For now, Sarah Palin can say and do as she pleases, and I can vote for… well, for somebody else. But the fact that we have made enough progress on putting the shame of slavery behind us that we now have a black man as a serious candidate for President gives me hope. One day soon I hope that we'll put the shame of killing and exploiting animals for our own amusement and vanity equally far behind us. When that happens, politics will be even more entertaining, and far less frustrating.