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Hare Splitting? Romney vs. Vick

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When I was about 14 years old I took the 10-shot semi-automatic pellet shooting CO2 pistol we kept in our front hall closet and went rabbit hunting in a nearby field where I killed my first, and last, cottontail. When I approached the little scamp after miraculously hitting it in the abdomen just above it's hind legs, it was still alive, breathing hard, and in apparent terror and agony. To end it's misery, I aimed the handgun at its head and from just a few inches away, pulled the trigger, driving a pellet into the temple. The fuzzy beast continued to quiver and kick even as blood seeped out of it's brain, so I shot it in the head again, but it was still moving, so I shot it again, and then again, and again. Then I walked away, stunned by my barbaric behavior.

The Honorable Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts Governor and leading Republican presidential candidate, a few months ago at a stump speech in New Hampshire, claimed to be "a  hunter pretty much all my life", and, following statements by his campaign that appeared to contradict the remark, later clarified at a press conference, "I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will".

Meanwhile, in Virginia, NFL quarterback, former Virginia Tech football star, #1 draft pick and reigning public enemy number one Michael Vick was apparently running a dogfighting operation that allegedly included the merciless killing of pit bulls who failed to measure up in the ring. This revelation prompted West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd to stand on the Senate floor and passionately decry the behavior as "barbaric (long pause), barbaric (long pause), barbaric (longer pause), BARBARIC!"

My purpose is not to equate rabbit hunting with dog fighting, or disparage Mitt Romney, or vindicate Michael Vick (or maybe it is a bit of all three). Obviously, rabbits aren't dogs, and hunting rabbit is legal and dog fighting is not, but if dog fighting were legal, as is the case in some parts of the world, would it be any less barbaric? More importantly, why would a candidate, if not fabricate, at a minimum embellish his hunting credentials on the resume attached to an application for the job of President of the United States? Setting aside the question of whether a person could possibly undertake a task less dignified than a campaign for president, what does it say about a constituency for which a candidate feels compelled to bolster presidential qualifications by touting a fondness (presumably for the fun of it), for killing small, furry, defenseless mammals?

Again, rabbit hunting isn't on a par with dogfighting, but is it virtuous? I don't see the enormous chasm. The Michael Vick story is shocking and sickening, yet Governor Romney, in an effort to define his political and ideological leanings to persuade people to favor him as a candidate, boasts of hunting rabbit not just as an adolescent, but "pretty much" his entire life. Along the continuum of perfect virtue to absolute evil, where do rabbit shooting and dogfighting fall? Surely they aren't on opposite ends. Does a tortured rabbit suffer less than a tortured canine? Are dogs superior? If so, in what way? I've had both dogs and rabbits as pets, and I recommend, especially where children are present, an Australian dwarf lop over a pit bull. Fighting and killing dogs for the purpose of entertainment and recreation and sport is not the same thing as shooting rabbits for the purpose of entertainment and recreation and sport, but are they really so far apart?  If the former is barbaric, how can the latter be noble? Is electrocuting a vicious pit bull with cold blooded indifference, as is alleged in the dogfighting scandal, tremendously different than getting a thrill from tearing apart thumper with a .22?

From a philosophical standpoint, I can't avoid the conclusion that either Mitt Romney's alleged rabbit hunting is at least to some degree dishonorable, or Michael Vick's dogfighting hobby is not so heinous as to warrant a prison sentence and/or banishment from the NFL.
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Robert Sargent is co-owner of a Washington State commercial printing company with operations in Seattle and Redmond. He has an Economics degree from the University of Washington and occasionally plays alto sax with the Husky alumni band. An amateur (more...)
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