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Matthew Scully


The former Bush speechwriter on working in the White House, the moral choice against factory farming, and why conservatives should join the cause


You think happy cows come from California? Think again. Or better yet, pick up a copy of Matthew Scully's alarming 2002 book, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. In it, Scully addresses the realities of factory farming, trophy hunting, and whaling, and questions the dignity of a society that inflicts misery on animals for our "convenience and pleasure." Perhaps most surprising is that this same man also wrote many of President George W. Bush's speeches while serving as special assistant and senior speechwriter between January 2001 and June 2002. Prior to that, he worked on Bush's 2000 campaign from Austin, Texas, and has written for vice presidents Dan Quayle and Dick Cheney. He is also former literary editor for the National Review.

Last summer, Scully and his wife, Emmanuelle, moved to Los Angeles. No longer tied to the White House, Scully is pursuing his own writing again, and it is already causing ripples. His essay "Fear Factories: The Case for Compassionate Conservatism -- for Animals," published in Pat Buchanan's The American Conservative, led George Will to comment last year in Newsweek: "He speaks barely above a whisper and must be the mildest disturber of the peace. But he is among the most disturbing."
--Allison Milionis

CityBeat: Why did you become an advocate for animals?

Matthew Scully: I became a vegetarian in the mid-Seventies after reading some of the early books on the subject of factory farming. As soon as I became familiar with the details, I knew at once that I wanted nothing to do with it.

Over the years I held to my convictions but I didn't think much about it until my mid-thirties. What I discovered in my reading is that everything about factory farming had gotten worse. Farming methods were harsher and more ruthless, and it was clearly reaching the point of being a serious public policy issue and a serious moral question. During the process of writing Dominion, I came to realize that in many ways dairy and poultry farming is no better. There is this comforting illusion that those farms are more benevolent because they don't involve direct killing. But they're not. So I turned away from dairy and eggs and I still consider that one of the best decisions I ever made.

Were you writing Dominion while you were working in the White House?

I started the book in the spring of 1999 and found a publisher in May of 2000. Then a former colleague of mine called and asked if I wanted to go to Austin to work on the Bush 2000 campaign. I ended up writing the book in the early mornings before going to work, as the campaign permitted. I didn't finish it until September 2001, nine months into being in Washington. As a matter of fact, I finished that book the morning of 9/11. I had gotten in very early that day and was printing out the final pages and self-consciously setting down the last page when literally, 15 seconds later, a colleague called me and told me what had happened.

Was it difficult to be working for an administration that is supported in large part by the industries that you denounce in Dominion?

Neither major party is notable for its concern toward the welfare of animals. Really, the larger problem is that it's not an issue taken seriously and given the attention it requires. In practice you're as likely to find a Republican in congress supporting and sponsoring an animal welfare act, as you are to find a Democrat.

In "Fear Factories," you wrote: "If such matters were ever brought to President Bush's attention in a serious way, he would find in the details of factory farming many things abhorrent to the Christian heart and to his kindly instincts." What do you mean by "serious way?"

One thing I learned by working at the White House is that often things are done without the president's authority and often it's a subject he scarcely knows about. Departments announce things in a general way and the president oversees and is responsible for those actions, but I doubt very much that he is regularly consulted on these things and I know for certain that he is not consulted on animal welfare issues.

I've had conversations with him on these very things and I have every reason to believe that he would be well disposed to at least some of the issues. Take the Bureau of Land Management and the Interior Department allowing the sale and slaughter of wild horses. Did anybody ever ask the president about that? I doubt it very much. Would he have been in favor of it? I think with his good instincts, which I have seen many times, and his personal kindness, he would come through and say no, this is the wrong thing to do.

Did you give him a copy of your book?

I never did, though I wish I had. We did talk about it, though, and he was quite nice.

Your article, "Fear Factories," was clearly directed toward conservatives. Liberals eat meat, too. Why not engage a larger audience by publishing the piece in a popular magazine?

Because conservatives can be indifferent or stubborn on these issues. And conservatives have particular influence these days. I felt that I should address the argument in terms they understand and to challenge them to think seriously about it. Of course, the idea does not exclude liberals. At their best, liberals should care about animal welfare because they tend to care for the weak, the forgotten, and marginalized. Someone wrote to me recently on my website saying this is an issue that could unite everyone -- conservatives, liberals, Democrats, and Republicans -- because all people for their own reasons have a heart for animals.

Take factory farming: Some people might oppose it because of the environmental damage, while others might oppose it on the grounds that the government shouldn't be propping up these giant companies with subsidies. Religious people can find concerns of their own, such as a shared fellowship with animals or a moral concern of animals.

Many European countries have banned some U.S. farming practices, such as gestation crates for pigs, because they consider them cruel and inhumane. Several organizations have protested these practices here but have met resistance. Can you explain why?

In the U.S., we are held back by free market ethics. Any attempt to curtail factory farming is seen as a restriction on economic freedom. Also, I have a hunch that the Europeans were deeply affected by the hoof-and-mouth scare in 2001. Here were millions of animals just being destroyed because they had no economic value. That whole spectacle seems to have left an impression on people.

Yet, it seems that factory farming continues to expand in the U.S and abroad.

The demand [for meat] is so intense, and in order to move forward you have to abandon your previous standards of animal care. At the same time, we have alternatives like soy. Unlike in ages past, you actually come to this new point where meat production becomes morally indefensible. There is no morally correct way to do it anymore if you're going to meet demand at the price that people expect. And you consider the cost of the environment, and also you consider, above all, the moral cost of going forward. If you accept it, you accept it forever and you're stuck with it and there is no way of going back. In this sense, humanity has some important decisions to make. Push on and accept factory farming or turn away and find a better answer.


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