Politics as blood sport
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is fighting mad over Pamela Anderson's threats
By ROBERT FRIEDMAN
Published February 6, 2005
Are Republicans soft on cockfighting?
That is the troubling but unavoidable conclusion that must be drawn from GOP leaders' continuing silence on the issue.
In a stunning role reversal, it has been left to Democrats - besmirched by Republicans as effete, escargot-eating Girlie Men - to defend America's proud cultural heritage of wagering big money on fights to the death between roosters with razors strapped to their legs.
In New Mexico, one of two states where cockfighting is, inexplicably, still legal, Democratic legislator Benjie Regensburg is defending the "sport" in the face of a new effort to ban it. The critics, Regensburg said, "say it's brutal, but these are people who value the life of a rooster more than a human being."
Regensburg sees cockfighting as part of the fabric of New Mexico culture. "I've seen rooster fights used to determine who's running for school board or who's coming out on top in a disputed cattle sale," he said.
State Sen. Shannon Robinson, D-Albuquerque, agreed: "It's part of a way of life, and it's a sport. It's a breeder's sport. It's almost an industry."
Democratic New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the normally diplomatic former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, claims to be undecided on the issue of whether cockfighting should remain legal in his state. But Richardson is cockfighting mad over the threats and slurs directed at New Mexico by animal-rights agitators.
The crusade to ban cockfighting in New Mexico is being led, naturally enough, by former Baywatch thespian Pamela Anderson. In a letter to Richardson, Anderson warned darkly that "the whole world is watching, especially Hollywood, which your office actively courts for the film business."
Richardson lashed back at Anderson and other celebrity meddlers: "It goes beyond distraction sometimes. Some of the implied threats coming from these Hollywood personalities are condescending and insulting."
Meanwhile, Democrats in Oklahoma, where cockfighting was banned in 2002, are seeking a compromise that might satisfy rooster-loving activists such as Anderson.
Democratic state Sen. Frank Shurden proposes fitting fighting roosters with little boxing gloves: "Who's going to object to chickens fighting like humans do?" Shurden asks. "Everybody wins. To me, it answers everything."
Well, it doesn't answer the question of why any sane person would live in Oklahoma, but it does throw the issue back into the opponents' corner. What are they holding out for? Rooster headgear?
The procockfighting hard-liners may already view Shurden as an animal-rights appeaser, but at least he's no John Kerry.
During last year's presidential campaign, Kerry did everything he could think of to pander to the heartland values of Red State voters. But he never could get it right.
During a campaign stop in Philadelphia, Kerry ordered a cheese steak, just like a regular guy - but he asked for Swiss cheese instead of the usual Cheez Whiz. "It will doom his candidacy in Philadelphia," predicted Philadelphia Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan. "In Philadelphia (Swiss cheese) is an alternative lifestyle."
When Kerry was in Wisconsin, he dutifully praised the Green Bay Packers - but he said they played at "Lambert Field" instead of hallowed Lambeau Field. "He's out of touch," said Dean Achterburg, a community leader from Pewaukee. "I think he would be more fitting at a polo match than at the all-American sport of football."
Despite the urban legend, Kerry didn't really say, "Who among us doesn't like NASCAR?" But his professed love of stock-car racing still was unconvincing: "There isn't one of us here who doesn't like NASCAR and who isn't a fan," Kerry said at a Wisconsin union rally.
Those and other gaffes - the dorky snowboarding photo op, the contrived goose hunt - hurt Kerry and reinforced the image that Democrats aren't quite red-blooded enough to lead the country (even though Republicans George W. Bush and Trent Lott are the only national politicians I know of who were male cheerleaders back in the days before the job entailed catching and grabbing beautiful, half-dressed young women in ways that are illegal in establishments serving alcohol).
Maybe it's just a coincidence that all these Democrats in New Mexico, Oklahoma and other Red states are speaking out to defend Americans' right to watch roosters slice each other to pieces. But I think it might be part of an organized Democratic effort to win votes by building a more macho image.
After all, who among us doesn't like cockfighting?
Robert Friedman, editor of the Perspective section, can be reached at email@example.com
[Last modified February 6, 2005, 00:22:15]
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