A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

The Day Obama Struck Out

The greatness of a president can be measured by his concern for the animals

By Michael Mountain

Dear Mr. President,

A lot of us are in shock today about what you said yesterday to the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles about Michael Vick. This was the third (at least) in a series of really bad calls in relation to the suffering of animals.

And for those of us who look to you for leadership, it could be a case of “three strikes and you’re out.”

First strike

The first strike was soon after you came into office and had to choose a family pet. You’d had thousands of letters and petitions from people across the country encouraging you to go to one of the shelters in D.C. and adopt a dog or cat who really needed a home.

Bo is a sweet dog, but he didn’t need your help. Any number of people would have bought him from that breeder. Meanwhile, there were hundreds of shelter dogs who were literally dying for a good home. You could have saved any one of those lives. And the example you would have set, and the message you would have sent, by adopting a shelter pet would have been unparalleled.

You knew this, but you took no notice.

Second strike

In November 2009, just before Thanksgiving, you did the traditional “pardoning” of a turkey on the South Lawn of the White House.

It’s a touching moment. Millions of turkeys live miserable lives so that we can celebrate Thanksgiving. The ceremony at the White House is an opportunity to say a few words on their behalf – to recognize their sacrifice and to acknowledge their suffering. This is the occasion for a word of thanks and a note of appreciation. Sort of like saying grace before the meal.

Instead, you just threw out a series of off-hand, off-base jokes:

“You know, there are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office. And then there are moments like this where I pardon a turkey! [Laughter] … That’s a good-looking bird … I was planning to eat this sucker.”

It was an insensitive and, frankly, stupid remark. And it said something about you and your level of concern for other living creatures.

Third strike

And now we have your comment about Michael Vick. Here it is, as told to NBC News reporter Peter King by Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie:

“The president wanted to talk about two things, but the first was Michael [Vick]. He said, ‘So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance.’ He was … passionate about it. He said it’s never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail. And he was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall.”

Of all the thousands of people who have slipped up in life and who can benefit from a helping hand and a second chance – like the shoplifter who was trying to keep her family afloat or the drug addict who’s now working his way through rehab – why this man?

Why on earth would you choose to give a Presidential shout-out to a man who has tortured and killed dogs by the dozen… who has yet to acknowledge what he did… who has never talked about those dogs… and who has yet even to offer a single word of apology for his horrific behavior?

All of us who are sickened by this are beyond-baffled by the idea of the President of the United States singling out this particular psychopathic criminal for special praise. What in heaven’s name is going on here?

I could say that I just don’t get it. Except that I do get it. And what I get – and what many others of us are also coming to understand – is that, in some really key ways, it’s you who just doesn’t get it.

You may be familiar with the well-known remark of Mohandas Gandhi, who said that:

“One can measure the greatness and the moral progress of a nation by looking at how it treats its animals.”

One can also measure the greatness and the moral leadership of a president by his concern for those who are most dependent on the example he sets.

In three specific instances now, you’ve said or done things that demonstrate a serious lack of empathy, caring or concern for those who are weakest and most helpless among us.

And your shout-out to Michael Vick was the third time we’ve seen you doing this on the national stage.

If people want to watch Vick play football, that’s up to them. But the “greatness and moral progress” of our nation will be judged by how we treat the creatures who are abused and abandoned by people like him.

And if you ever come to understand that, we’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and a second chance, too.