Matthew O. Scully is the guy who wrote Sarah Palin’s electrifying speech to the 2008 GOP convention. He also wrote Paul Ryan’s “Let’s get this done!” speech in 2012, which you might not remember as well, but which was quite an excellent speech. I have been fortunate enough to spend some quality time in Matt’s company, and I find him a brilliant, down to earth man, with no shortage of fascinating stories. (Matt used to be a speechwriter for George W. Bush, and has spent his share of time in the Oval Office, so how couldn’t he have great stories to tell?) I have described Matt before in this way, in my post about Ryan’s speech:
Matt is a vegan (for moral reasons), an opponent of hunting, and an environmentalist; a thinking, independent conservative who shows that there is room in the party for people of all different stripes. He is also hell of a speech writer and he really pulled this one off.
All this is by way of background, because when you are about to broach a delicate subject that segments of your audience might disagree with, you want to establish the proponent’s bona fides. The Greeks called it ethos, and suggested that it precede logos, or the logical part of the argument.
Whether Matt studied Greek rhetoric, or simply grasps the principles instinctively, he gets this concept. So he opens his latest piece in this compelling manner:
In 20 or so years of political speechwriting, the only condition I have ever set down in advance of being hired is that I would never, under any circumstances, assist any candidate or officeholder in promoting the cause of abortion. Among employers in that time, the one I admired most was a Democrat: the late Pennsylvania governor Robert P. Casey, a great man and gallant champion of life who viewed abortion on demand as “the ultimate exploitation of the weak by the strong,” who considered his party’s all-in acceptance of abortion a tragic error, and who told me, long before Kermit Gosnell came along, about the filthy characters in it for the money.
In presidential speechwriting, during the first term of George W. Bush, my colleagues and I put special care into the “culture of life” theme, and I’ve sought to do the same in various campaigns going back to Bush-Quayle ’92. The abortion question, rightly a defining concern of modern conservatism, will always center on mercy for the child, who is just as we once were, on our way into the world, waiting to be born and needing to be loved. Let compassion for mother and child alike be the spirit, leaving anger and sanctimony to the other side, and a decisive majority of Americans — in both parties, in every age group, women and men alike — will always be with you. In Sarah Palin’s 2008 convention address, no words at all were needed on the subject: Just the sight of the governor and her infant son Trig, a child with Down syndrome, said it all. If there was any provocation in the text directed at the pro-abortion lobby, it was simply to call the child “a perfectly beautiful baby boy.” And when that is heard as a rebuke, you know your cause has serious problems.
Already, you gotta love the guy, right?
So when Matt talks about animal rights, I assume that y’all are going to listen respectfully. You don’t have to agree. Just listen with an open mind. That’s all he asks, and all I ask.
This cursus honorum of pro-life commitment — and you could throw in a good many columns on the matter in National Review and elsewhere — is offered by way of asking readers, and especially those of shared conviction, to consider another moral concern, cruelty to animals, in the same merciful spirit. I kept thinking of the connection between abortion and extreme cruelty during the trial last April and May of Dr. Gosnell, the specialist in late-term abortions (right there in Governor Casey’s state) who is now in prison, because it was a case of people numbed to horrors that had become routine and normalized, and a case of euphemisms dragged into the light of day. Conservative commentators seized on the hypocrisy of pro-choice liberals, deriding all the cant and rationalization that the Left uses in defense of abortion, and finally shaming the major media — thanks above all to columnist Kirsten Powers, a Democrat — into covering the trial after weeks of silence. I completely agreed, but just wished that those same conservatives might think as clearly and forthrightly about other horrors and other euphemisms.
There’s quite a bit of both, to take just the example closest to home, in the modern animal factories we call farms. One could equally cite other routine forms of abuse inflicted on animals — for spectacles, for bloody recreation, or in the name of science — but this is the abuse that is the most widespread, and the most directly affected and sustained by the choices that you and I make. The factory farms — producing almost every animal product we see sold or advertised, in our country and most others — are places of immense and avoidable suffering. And though the moral stakes are not the same as with abortion, the moral habits are, relying in both cases on the averted gaze and a smothering of empathy.
I happen to agree with Matt wholeheartedly on this issue. It’s one of the reasons I broke with conservative orthodoxy to support California’s Proposition 2 back in 2008. I can’t take my convictions as far as Matt does — I am a meat eater, to cite one stark example — but in a household consisting of 50% vegetarians (the females), there is no shortage of soy products, and I eat them fairly often and enjoy them.
I think eating meat is part of the cycle of nature, but I support humane treatment of animals, and recognize that many of them share human emotions, which many consider the touchstone of humanity. If you don’t believe me, I suggest reading When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals. I read this years ago and found the evidence clear and convincing.
But there I go. My goal in this post is not to convince you of anything. It’s to direct you to Matt’s piece. He is the speechwriter; I’m not. If anyone has the rhetorical knowledge and power to convince you of the moral imperative to treat animals in a humane fashion, it’s Matt. So go read his piece now. It’s rather lengthy, but I promise you: it’s worth your time.
P.S. Matt has a book about all this, if you’re interested. It’s called Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. Check it out.