Of late, it seems, Republicans are determined to demonstrate their political virility by displaying not just their hunting trophies but their fearlessness in carving up a fresh kill for the family table.
It may not qualify as a trend yet—three’s the charm—but it is impossible to avert one’s gaze from the puddles of blood surfacing in certain politicians’ photo albums.
Anybody can be a champion of the Second Amendment, but if you want to project the kind of tough leadership needed to combat terrorists and Wall Street, you’d best know how to bring home the bacon without a vacuum seal.
“Show me the blood” seems to be the mantra in some quarters of the GOP.
It started with you-know-who from Alaska, who won carnivore hearts when it became known that she could field dress a moose. More than a mere governor and mother, Sarah Palin could take down a 1,500-pound beast with a precision shot to the heart and gut her harvest before sundown.
“We eat, therefore we hunt,” she proudly told those assembled as she retired from the governorship. And off she went, leaving a freezer full of wild game for a season of book-peddling, speaking and other indoorsy activities of the Eastern elite.
Then came Christmas greetings from Republican Marco Rubio, former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, who is in a primary battle against Gov. Charlie Crist for the U.S. Senate. We all have our version of the holiday dinner, but Rubio took us behind the scenes, tweeting photos of the 2009 Rubio family Christmas Eve pig.
Although it wasn’t clear whether Rubio had killed the animal or wielded the butcher knife himself, one photo shows a dead hog on a table as a man slices into its haunch. Another frame shows the creature gutted and suspended over a puddle of blood.
“Warning, picture not for the faint of heart,” Rubio graciously tweeted. Indeed.
Hunting isn’t a new activity for politicians to pursue in photo-friendly, public ways. President Teddy Roosevelt, who was also founder of the aptly named “Bull Moose” Party, popularized the image of the virile president-frontiersman.
Seeing the nation’s father figure toting a shotgun or rifle in the wild makes for good, masculine imagery that targets our lizard brains. Dutifully we process the message: He hunt food. He feed family. He good man.
A woman who can do it just as well pushes several buttons at once, appealing both to pride in our pioneering foremothers and to our modern multitasking sisters. There was Palin-the-mother with her five children in one frame; there was Palin-the-huntress admiring the kill that would fill her brood’s tummies in the next.
Tough and touching is no easy feat for a female politician, but Palin managed to pull it off, at the same time raising the ante on Republican iconography. The new coin of the realm was gore and the message was clear: The Democratic “mommy” party of swooning dependents can’t stand the sight of blood (and therefore can’t be trusted to protect America). The Republican “father” party of virile (and fertile) warriors is strong, self-sufficient and unafraid.
No one who eats meat suffers any illusions about what precedes the cuisine. Something has to die, as Palin noted, and animals humanely killed in the wild are preferable from nearly every standpoint to those factory-farmed. Gutting and gore are obviously part of the game, but must we be so proud?
In the spirit of self-defense, I am a veteran defender of hunters. Although I personally prefer flora to the flesh, my own freezer is full of game, thanks to the hunting faction of my household. And, as I’ve written previously, it is largely thanks to hunters, the majority of whom are passionate conservationists, that we can boast plentiful wildlife in this country.
There is to my mind, however, a clear ethical difference between hunting for nourishment and exploiting the hunted for political gain. We may be animals ourselves, but we are also enlightened creatures of conscience, for whom killing should be the necessary means to a respectful end.
If I may be so gutsy: The politician-as-hunter cliche has bloody-well run its course. We get it. Real women may hunt moose, as the Palin sampler reads, but real leaders don’t strut their kill.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.