Is There a Vegan in the White House?

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Is There a Vegan in the White House?

By Michael W. Weber

Soon-to-be-President Barack Obama has appointed animal advocate Cass Sunstein to head the relatively obscure, yet powerful Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

The regulatory czar, as the position is generally called, is responsible for every regulatory agency in the country, such as the EPA, and will oversee all administration rules.

Sunstein is best known for his balanced views between government regulations and cost-benefit analysis and for his theory of behavioral economics and he is widely considered to be a great choice for the office. However, a new controversy is arising over his views on animal rights and animal welfare.

Sunstein, a vegetarian, co-authored the book Animal Right: Current Debates and New Directions, and has advocated for much stricter regulations of almost every industry that uses animals, including entertainment, clothing, science and agriculture. The Center For Consumer Freedom claims that he will even attempt to outlaw meat-eating and hunting.

What some are criticizing the most is Sunsteinís argument that animals should be entitled to legal representation in court- a bold claim that, if enacted, would drastically change the role that animals hold in this country. Sunstein advocates banning hunting unless it is for food and says that animal suffering needs to be a priority of humans.

But before people worry that Sunstein is going to force everyone in our country to go vegan, it should be noted that his views are rooted in pragmatism, and that animal suffering is his primary concern, not necessarily animal liberation:

If we focus on suffering, as I believe that we should, it is not necessarily impermissible to kill animals and use them for food; but it is entirely impermissible to be indifferent to their interests while they are alive. So too for other animals in farms, even or perhaps especially if they are being used for the benefit of human beings.

While I would be more than happy with a leader in Washington who does openly advocate animal liberation, I understand that on a sensitive issue like this, any progress is a big stride. Maybe Proposition 2 was just the beginning of a new wave of animal welfare concerns? I can only hope.

Originally published on

Read Cass Sunstein's The Rights of Animals: A Very Short Primer.

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