Tea party versus puppies

    For the latest episode in our long-running sitcom Its Always Batty in America, we take you now to the heartland state of Missouri, where tea-party activists have crafted a principled constitutional stance in opposition to healthy puppies.

    You think I’m kidding here? Not.

    There are times when it’s vital that I highlight the stupidity factor in American politics. This is one of those times, because it’s so emblematic of what is happening these days in certain precincts of the conservative movement.

    I suppose I could simply cite the usual evidence – for instance, the GOP’s persistent denial of climate change science, even at a time when conservative European leaders are acknowledging the science and warning (in the words of the new British foreign secretary, a conservative appointee) that “climate change is perhaps the 21st century’s biggest foreign policy challenge.” But you know that story already. The tea-partiers’ stance against puppies is way more fun, if only because it demonstrates that political satirists need not bother to target a movement that’s so adept at inadvertently satirizing itself.

    A referendum on the Missouri November ballot is aimed at cleaning up the state’s squalid puppy mills. Animal advocacy groups have long targeted Missouri’s commercial breeders, who are reportedly among the most notorious nationwide – given their well-earned reputation for cramming too many dogs into small unsanitary cages, forcing the breeding females to crank out litter after litter with virtually no respite between pregnancies, and neglecting the basics such as regular food and water. As one Missouri animal advocate also noted the other day, the dogs “become so matted in dirt and feces that they can’t move their legs.”

    Accordingly, the Missouri ballot referendum would “prohibit the cruel and inhumane treatment of dogs in puppy mills by requiring large-scale dog breeding operations to provide each dog under their care with basic food and water, adequate shelter from the elements, necessary veterinary care, adequate space to turn around and stretch his or her limbs, and regular exercise.”

    Nobody could possibly object to that, right?

    Send in the clowns. The Missouri Tea Party, and two other tea-party groups, are furious about this referendum. They’ve got a big meeting next week to ratchet up their campaign to defeat puppy reform. Ready for their argument?

    The pro-puppy measure is really just another example of the “government trying to tell people what to do.”

    And who better to make the tea-party argument than Joe Wurzelbacher – better known, in 2008, as Joe the Plumber. Having long exhausted his 15 minutes of fame, John McCain’s designated Everyman has loaned his wisdom to the cause. In his words, the pro-puppy referendum is apparently a symptom of the socialist conspiracy that is “taking our constitutional rights away – one state at a time.”

    That’s downright cerebral when compared to a statement such as “I’m not a witch.” But still. Joe subscribes to what I like to call The Next Thing You Know school of argument – to wit: If a government is allowed to protect puppies, The Next Thing You Know it might be capable of all kinds of tyranny. Joe, writing online the other day, put it this way: “Think about this for a minute…Should the government have the right to limit the number of houses a realtor can sell? Or the number of cattle a rancher can raise?”

    I read some of the small Missouri newspapers, figuring that some average citizen might be smarter than Joe the Plumber. It was an easy job. Say hello to one Ellen Cox:

    “I was shocked when I went to the Greentree Festival and found (anti-referendum) literature being given out at the Republican booth. I talked to (a Republican lawmaker there) and he said many people feel the current laws are enough and this is just more big-government interference. We have 10 times the number of puppy mills in Missouri as the next worst state, Arkansas. It’s embarrassing to see Missouri held up as worst in the country when it comes to treatment of our best friends.

    “I lean right in my politics. I don’t see this as a right or left political issue. I see this as about acting humane. This is about the torture of God’s creatures.”

    Maybe it’s also worth detailing the tea-partiers’ belief that the puppy referendum plot goes all the way to Barack Obama (naturally!), because one top Obama appointee (Cass Sunstein) has in past writings condemned cruelty to animals…nah, forget it.

    Forty six years ago, the famed political scholar Richard Hofstadter wrote about what he called ‘the paranoid style in American politics,” a cyclical affliction characterized by “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.” He might just as easily have listed stupidity. How else to explain a mode of thought that now stands in opposition to healthy puppies?

    But surely the tea partiers will point out that the word puppies never appears anywhere in the U.S. Constitution, and therefore that the Founding Fathers surely never intended any government protection…Well, I guess they got me on that one.

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