Bush Speechwriter Emerges as Animal Welfare Advocate
By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 24, 2004; Page A21
Quick, does Matthew Scully sound like a Republican?
He wants increased government regulations of corporations that mass- produce animals for slaughter. He is against "free-market"
techniques of conservation, in which some animals are killed or captured in order to raise money to protect others. He wants the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the Safari Club, a powerful hunting advocacy group.
Scully may sound like a liberal, but he is a conservative with impeccable credentials: He works in the White House as a speechwriter for President Bush.
He has also emerged as a potent voice for animal welfare in what is widely regarded as a red-meat White House. Groups fighting animal cruelty consider him a powerful advocate, and Scully is helping to advance their issues.
"He has had a substantial positive impact," said Wayne Pacelle, the chief executive-designate of the Humane Society of the United States, who credited the White House for being open to Scully's views. "I don't say this lightly: He's a hero to animal advocates across the country."
Much of that reputation rests on Scully's 2002 book, "Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy." In it, Scully denounced Norwegian and Japanese whale hunters, industrial farming techniques and the hunting of trophy animals.
Although animal welfare is usually thought of as a liberal cause, Scully argues that it ought to be a central issue for religious conservatives.
"Religious people . . . hold a kind and merciful view of life, the faith of the broken, the hounded, the hopeless," he wrote. "Yet too often, they will not extend that spirit to our fellow creatures.
More than anything else, I hope with this book to speak to those people."
In interviews, Scully, 45, said animal welfare is a nonpartisan issue. Everyone, he said, can agree it is wrong to inflict needless cruelty on animals for profit and to use wildlife and farm animals as "resources" no different from wood and steel.
Such cruelties exist because ordinary people ignore where the meat they eat comes from, Scully said. People who love animals such as dolphins and elephants are uninterested in the lives of chickens and hogs. But people -- Scully calls them "moral actors" -- can alter the workings of the free market by making choices about what kind of meat they buy, or whether they eat meat at all.
"It's caprice to say my dog is deserving of my care and that dog in the shelter can be disposed of," Scully said in an interview at his office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where his computer's wallpaper is a picture of a dog bounding down steps. The dog is Lucky, Scully's boyhood pet, to whom his book is dedicated.
Scully, a vegetarian for 30 years, talked about individual responsibility when discussing a hog farm he saw in North Carolina where pigs spend entire lives in narrow crates.
"Pigs and lambs and cows and chickens are not pieces of machinery, no matter how cost-efficient it may be to treat them as such," he wrote in his book. "Machinery doesn't cry or feel frightened or lonely. And when a man treats them this way, he might as well be a machine himself."
Smithfield Foods, whose farm Scully wrote about, said in a statement that the company complies with all laws and houses animals in "an environment consistent with their physiological needs."
Scully also gate-crashed a meeting of the Safari Club and described how American hunters operate in Africa: "Three white guys from across the world show up, pick out the local chieftains, and throw some money around while hinting of bigger favors to come in exchange for the privilege of looting the local forests. Before this became 'conservation,' we used to call it colonialism."
Skip Donau, an Arizona lawyer and former president of the club, said Scully's account was "riddled with inaccuracies and untruths."
"I find it astonishing that this individual is a speechwriter for the Bush administration," Donau said. "His take is certainly not in keeping with what I understand the Bush administration policy on outdoor recreation and conservation is."
Scully was a reporter and editor at the conservative publications the National Review and the Washington Times before gravitating toward speechwriting for former vice president Dan Quayle and then Bush.
He rarely dwells on contradictions between his concern for animals and his loyalty to the president, former president George H.W. Bush and Vice President Cheney, who shot 70 ring-necked pheasants in one outing in December.
At the Safari Club convention Scully attended, former president Bush was the keynote speaker. Scully wrote, "what this great and kindly man himself gets out of it is hard to say."
After describing cruelties in industrial farming, Scully wrote, "I have no doubt that President George W. Bush -- a man, in my experience, of extremely kind and generous instincts, and back in Austin even a rescuer of stray animals -- would be appalled by the conditions of a typical American factory farm or packing plant."
Scully declined to comment on Cheney's hunting expedition. "I have done some work for the vice president and think the world of him"
was all he would say.
In his book, Scully mocks hunters who shoot animals that are raised for that purpose: "Your typical trophy hunter today is hunting captive animals, and for all the skill and manhood it requires might as well do his stalking in a zoo."
Scully said he holds his bosses in high personal regard and points out that his views align closely with theirs on other "compassionate conservative" issues.
"Matt is strongly for animal welfare, and he is very strongly pro- life, and he sees that as part of the same continuum -- a welcoming, gentle, merciful society," said Mike Gerson, who heads the Bush speechwriting team. Gerson said Scully's views on animal welfare have been taken seriously by White House policymakers.
Gary Francione, a law professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said Scully's animal welfare ideas have a long history in conservative thought. But Francione, who seeks not just to ameliorate cruelty but to abolish all human exploitation of animals, believes Scully does not go far enough.
"People should be educating people about the moral and environmental disaster of meat-based agriculture," he said. The amount of grain fed to U.S. animals being raised for slaughter could provide every person on Earth with two loaves of bread a day, he said. By contrast, Francione said, animal welfare efforts such as Scully's merely raise the price of meat and make meat-eating more acceptable.
"Scully is saying we should exercise gentle dominion over animals,"
Francione said. "He's saying let rich people eat meat and poor people eat tofu. I find that argument totally obnoxious. . . . It's an elitist position but it fits perfectly with a guy who's Bush's speechwriter."
Scully, equal parts activist and political maven, said tangible legislative and regulatory changes were the best way to help animals.
"If you're a purist," he said, "you never welcome any reform."