The former Bush speechwriter on working in the White House, the moral
choice against factory farming, and why conservatives should join the cause
~ By ALLISON MILIONIS ~
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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.