There are lots of problems with Sarah Palin and her show/campaign ad. Hunting isn't one of them.
After Palin shot and butchered a caribou on Sunday's show, PETA VP Dan Mathews issued this criticism: "Sarah seems to think that resorting to violence and blood and guts may lure people into watching her boring show. But the ratings remain as dead as the poor animals she shoots." Meanwhile, Palin tweeted that "Unless you've never worn leather shoes, sat upon a leather couch or eaten a piece of meat, save your condemnation of tonight's episode. I remain proudly intolerant of anti-hunting hypocrisy. :)" Aaron Sorkin, blogging for the Huffington Post in his capacity as Social Network writer/animal rights expert, disagrees:
Like 95% of the people I know, I don't have a visceral (look it up) problem eating meat or wearing a belt. But like absolutely everybody I know, I don't relish the idea of torturing animals. I don't enjoy the fact that they're dead and I certainly don't want to volunteer to be the one to kill them and if I were picked to be the one to kill them in some kind of Lottery-from-Hell, I wouldn't do a little dance of joy while I was slicing the animal apart.
Which, fair enough — everybody has a different moral compass when it comes to food. But does feeling a little bit bad about the animals you eat make you superior to someone who feels cool enough about the whole thing to flay a reindeer on television? Sorry, it doesn't.
Sorkin makes the point that hunting on Palin's show is a PR move, and that she relishes the chance to fire back at those who criticize her gun-toting ways. Totally accurate. Palin's whole show is one big commercial for the 2012 election (as many have said), and her modus operandi is to draw criticism and respond to it in a way that makes her look better to her base. One way for her opponents to handle this is not to give her what she wants all the time — save the criticism for times when it's really merited. This isn't one of those times.
Sorkin also says to Palin, "for the life of me, I can't make a distinction between what you get paid to do and what Michael Vick went to prison for doing." But famed ethicist (and vegetarian) Peter Singer made just such a distinction in a 2007 interview: "the aim of a hunter is to kill the animal with as little pain as possible — or it should be. [...] It seems pretty clear that the dogs that didn't fight well that Michael Vick and his associates killed were not killed instantly at all." Singer also says that dog-fighting and hunting "are both really very minor cruelties in the terms of the scale of things. The big thing that is going undiscussed here is the industrial raising of animals for food."
You can talk all you want about how gross it is to butcher an animal on television, or how unseemly it may be to celebrate when that animal dies. But squeamishness and decorum don't help the billions of animals killed in slaughterhouses every year. They don't give a shit if you feel bad about their deaths. But their lives do matter — and though humane facilities exist (thanks Temple Grandin!), many animals are still raised and slaughtered in horrific ways. Hunting has its problems too, but if you're going to eat meat, there's something to be said for eating an animal that got to live in its natural habitat and eat its natural diet (rather than, say, the corn-based cattle feed that may be contributing to antibiotic resistance). And while Palin may intend to make political hay out of her caribou kill, she's also clearly planning to eat the beast — she and her dad skin it carefully and she explicitly states that it's going to feed her family.