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Chickening Out

The Wall Street Journal would rather endorse cockfighting than be fair to a Clinton.

By Joe Moran
Posted 8/16/2001

How far will the ConWeb go to attack a Clinton? Readers who visit ConWebWatch even occasionally already know the answer. Conservative editorial writers live for the chance to lash into the former first family and happily jump through formidable hoops to gin up a reason to do so.

But what happens when the day’s news fails to provide professional Clinton-haters a pretext to bash their favorite targets? Simple: they just make something up.

OpinionJournal, the online outpost of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, provided an instructive example recently. On Aug. 9, regular columnist Kimberley Strassel offered readers “Half-cocked: Hillary aims to strangle America’s game fowl industry.” Strassel’s 18-paragraph column mounts a rousing defense of the barbaric blood “sport” of cockfighting while she flays Senator Clinton for “sticking her beak in where it isn’t wanted.”

In cockfighting, bird owners toss steroid-pumped roosters with razor-sharp spurs attached to their feet into a fighting pit. The birds slash each other until the loser dies in the pit or suffers injuries so severe that it must be destroyed immediately after the match. Cockfighting is a brutal game outside the fighting pit, too. Promoters stage these spectacles to provide a venue for drinking, gambling, and other unsavory pastimes. Fist fights and even murders are not uncommon. It’s not exactly good family fun.

In fact, the citizens of 47 states find cockfighting so abhorrent they forbid it within their borders. Fighting continues legally only in the rural backwaters of Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Louisiana. Breeding the birds, however, remains widely legal, and there’s the rub. Breeders routinely ship birds across state lines to participate in fighting events.

A skillful breeder can turn a tidy profit raising fighting birds, and it’s the defense of breeders that gives Strassel her excuse to castigate a Clinton. The breeders, Strassel says, should be free to ply their business without fearing the heavy hand of federal interference, and she accuses “the junior pullet from New York” of trying to put the breeders out of business.

Strassel wastes no time before the name-calling starts. In her first paragraph, she tells us: "Hillary Clinton is a chicken. That's the verdict of a scrappy little industry known for its breeding and selling of fighting poultry."

Later, Strassel repeats the charge that “the industry” has a problem with Clinton. But in her entire column, she never names or directly quotes anyone who who raises or fights birds.

So we have to rely on Strassel to tell us what Clinton has done to hamstring innocent bird breeders. Strassel accuses Clinton of using “backdoor tactics” to destroy the breeding industry. In her second paragraph, Strassel credits Clinton as co-sponsor of an amendment that would outlaw interstate transportation of fighting birds, depriving breeders of their livelihood. The amendment in question was one of 268 attached to the Democrats’ farm aid package.

Strassel writes:

Ms. Clinton's bill is an affront to greater principles. To begin with, it tramples all over states' rights. Worse, it threatens to eliminate a legal, legitimate, multimillion-dollar industry that conducts a thriving trade across the world.

In Strassel’s telling of events, Clinton tried to enforce her squeamish, Eastern sensibilities on the good people of the "red states" by using the power of federal legislation to shut down rural free enterprise. But later, in her ninth paragraph, Strassel lets slip a detail omitted in her spectacular initial telling of the story: the amendment was proposed not by Clinton, but by a Republican senator:

“The amendment (also sponsored by Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado, a Republican who should know better) was the ultimate loophole legislation.”

So whose amendment is it? Clinton’s or Allard’s? Strassel won’t tell, but you can find out for yourself in the Congressional Record for July 31. (Scroll down to "Allard Amendment No. 1188," where there is a link to page S8433-34 of the record, from which the excerpts below are taken. The URL for that page is not permanent for some reason, so it can't be linked to directly.) It’s Allard who takes the floor to offer the first amendment to S.1246, the Democrats’ farm aid package sponsored by Tom Harkin:

Mr. ALLARD. The amendment I am offering is a bill I have been working on for over 3 years in the Senate. It is commonly known as the cockfighting bill.

The bill amends the Animal Welfare Act to remove a loophole that permits interstate movement of live birds for the purpose of fighting to States in which animal fighting is lawful.

The Congressional Record reveals what Strassel cleverly hides from her readers. It isn’t power-mad, elitist Hillary Clinton who authored the amendment to stop bird breeders from plying their trade, but a Republican. And he’s been working on the bill for three years.

But Clinton is a co-sponsor of the amendment, isn’t she? In a word, no. Nowhere does the Congressional Record identify Sen. Clinton as having any role in bringing this particular amendment, or speaking about it on the Senate floor. Clinton did, however, offer 20 other amendments to the same bill. None have even a remote connection to cockfighting.

So how does Strassel pull the switcheroo necessary to make Hillary the fall-gal for the offending bill?

Allard introduced the very same proposal back in February of the current session of Congress as a stand-alone bill. Twenty-nine other senators (none named Clinton) signed on as co-sponsors. Four months later, Clinton was added as a co-sponsor. Apparently that’s all the ammunition Strassel needs to nail Hillary for trampling the rights of poor, hard-working farm folks who just want to run a bloodthirsty little business on the side.

What does Strassel say about the real author of the amendment? Allard “should know better,” Strassel snipes. As a matter of fact, no one in the House or Senate does know better than Allard the importance of this amendment. He’s a veterinarian who still practices his profession and occasionally offers free exams for Congressional pooches.

Did Allard stray from conservative orthodoxy to favor animals’ rights over states’ rights? Once again, Strassel won’t tell. You have to go back to the record to get the rest of the story. Here’s what Allard told his colleagues as soon as the amendment was introduced:

I want to make it clear I am a strong proponent of smaller government and of States rights. I do not believe you will find a stronger supporter of States rights in the Senate today than myself. While I do not personally approve of cock fighting, my bill clearly protects the rights of States to make or keep cockfighting legal if they so choose. I would not have introduced this bill if it did not.

Allard goes on to cite support for his legislation from more than 70 law enforcement agencies in different states. The loophole in current law which permits fighting birds to be shipped across state lines foils efforts to control cockfighting in states that want nothing to do with it. Allard’s bill actually helps the 47 states who choose to ban cockfighting enforce their own laws.

Allard’s amendment passed the Senate on a voice vote after no dissenting discussion. Unfortunately, the Democrats’ farm support bill failed. The Republican alternative (which slashes farm aid by more than $2 billion) passed in its place, so Allard (not Clinton) will have to try again.

So how low will Strassel stoop to attack a Clinton? Let’s review. A Republican senator introduces legislation in his area of professional expertise--an amendment to stop animal abuse; Hillary Clinton offers entirely separate and unrelated amendments to the same bill; but Clinton joined 29 other senators to sign on as a co-sponsor of an earlier version of the same legislation; therefore Hillary is guilty of using federal power to trample the rights of a wholesome, profitable industry.

Amazing, isn’t it? To accomplish this sleight-of-hand, Strassel glorifies cockfighting, abandons support of state law enforcement, discounts the professional competence of a conservative Republican senator, and pins authorship of a bill three years in the making on a senator who was elected just last year.

Perhaps Strassel should consider running away with the circus. She demonstrates an acrobat’s talent for jumping through seemingly impossible logical hoops and a contortionist’s flexibility when it comes to bending the simple truth. But for a professional Clinton-hater, it’s all in a day’s work.

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