Mercy For Animals: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

The Seattle Times
November 19, 2000
By Alex Tizon

Matthew Scully, a 43-year-old Republican insider, a one-time special assistant to the most powerful man on Earth, recently left his White House job to defend farm animals — mostly chickens, cows and pigs. The main platform for this defense is laid out in his first book, “Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy,” released last month by St. Martin’s Press.

Scully was in Seattle yesterday to speak at an animal-protection conference. He was here to talk, not just about the book, but about the buzz swirling around it. The buzz has made its way through the nation’s vast network of animal advocates, into the book-review pages of the most influential newspapers and magazines, and even into the hallowed chambers of Congress.

Why the attention? What sets this book apart from the multitude of other animal-advocacy books that come out year after year? Besides the fact that Scully was, up until five months ago, a special assistant and senior speechwriter for President George W. Bush, the presiding lodestar of the Republican Party, the book has garnered attention because of its eloquently simple appeal. Scully’s argument for the protection of animals is not based on rights, liberation or legal sophistry, but on the old — some would say old-fashioned — idea of mercy.

“We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality,” he writes in the book’s introduction, “but in a sense because they don’t; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us.”

Scully, over 425 meticulously written pages, turns the animal-liberation argument on its head by conceding from the start that animals are indeed lesser creatures which should not have the same legal rights as human beings, but which should, precisely because of their lesser status, be protected by those who have the power, namely, We the People.

As a movement, animal protection was once regarded as a left-wing concern. Scully’s message comes from what once might have been called “the loyal opposition,” said Mitchell Fox, a grant maker for Seattle’s Glaser Progress Foundation, which funds animal-protection projects worldwide. The foundation, created by Rob Glaser of Real Networks, hosted yesterday’s conference of animal-protection grant makers, in which Scully was a featured guest.

Fox said the foundation may also give “economic support” to Scully as he steps out of the privileged, if cloistered, world of politics and steps into the fragmented and unpredictable world of animal protection. The book marked the start of this precarious transition. Leaders and pundits as varied as Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., author Christopher Hitchens and former Nixon insider G. Gordon Liddy have praised the book.

Naturally, some have panned it. One of the most eloquent critics has been Wesley J. Smith, an author of nine books and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank based in Seattle. Smith is researching his own book on animal rights. Smith argues that Scully does not take his argument far enough, that he fails to provide a realistic way to apply the standards of mercy and kindness to a sector as large and complex as, say, the meat industry.

The vast majority of abused animals — the Glaser Progress Foundation says up to 95 percent — is made up of chickens, pigs, sheep and cows raised and butchered in industrialized plants or “factory farms.” It’s one thing to tell the owners of factory farms to be kind, Smith said. It’s another thing to implement kindness in a way that doesn’t destabilize the meat industry and raise prices so high that only the wealthy can afford a good steak. Scully has “brought up the emotionalism,” Smith said. “Now he’s got to come up with the philosophy and principles that people can follow.”

For the most part, Scully, a mild-mannered, soft-spoken man who can bench press 300 pounds, has fielded both praise and criticism with equanimity. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife of four years, Emmanuelle, a professional violinist, and two stray cats that have decided to stay. He is no stranger to debate. As a presidential campaign veteran and former literary editor for the National Review, he was often, if not in the eye of the storm, riding on the lashes.

He’s riding through his own self-created squall right now and seems to be enjoying it. He said he feels comfortable with the presentation of his ideas, and with the acceptance that “one person can’t change the whole thing.” One person, though, can change another person, and “every great reform in human history,” he said, “has occurred one person, one conscience, at a time.”