A Funny Thing Happened While Selling Cory Booker to Vegans

Last Friday I wrote a post in support of Cory Booker's presidency. The main audience was animal advocates, though I also aimed it at the general public and wrote about a number of his policies and politics that I think recommend him.

My original version of the post included a section that I decided to delete. In the deleted section, I predicted that a lot of people concerned with animals would immediately dismiss the first true animal advocate running for president based on other stances, something they would never do for human issues. It's striking to me how accurate my predictions are, so I thought it was worth sharing what I removed from the post, which I think underlines a problem not only among vegans but also on the left in general: that there is a socially-enforced ranking of issues that nearly everyone follows at the end of the day and that has little explicit justification.

The note is below the line.


I anticipate some on the vegan internet accusing Cory Booker supporters of adopting an offensive animals first view and privileging animals over humans who benefit from the policies of, say, Bernie Sanders. In ordinary life circumstances, fighting multiple oppressions poses no conflict–it likely helps. I think that's still the case with Cory Booker–he's the strongest candidate on animals and the strongest, or tied for the strongest, on humans. For those who disagree with me on Booker's human policies, though, there IS a conflict. If Sanders is better for humans and Booker is better for animals, then we have to make a choice, and there is no way to get out of it without focusing more on one problem than another.

I’ve seen conversations on the vegan internet go like this:

Vegan 1: We have to support Cory Booker because he's vegan and supports animal rights!

Vegan 2: No, Cory Booker is a neoliberal shill. He voted to keep prescription drug prices high. All oppression is connected.

Vegan: Oh my gosh, I didn't know that! That's awful. I can't support him now.

Imagine instead this conversation:

Vegan 1: Vote for Bernie Sanders for economic justice!

Vegan 2: Bernie Sanders eats animals and supports the dairy industry.

Vegan 1: Oh well, nobody’s perfect.

I think these two conversations illustrate the different ways that even animal advocates often treat animal and human issues. We will not forsake human rights for animals, but we will often do the reverse. If we truly oppose all suffering, then we must face some tensions and contradictions and make the best choice, all things considered. And if you care about all sentient beings, that choice is Cory Booker.


  1. I suspect one thing driving a lot of vegans' (and other liberals') intuitions against Booker and in favor of Bernie is the perception that Bernie is honest but Booker is not.

    The thought is that although it is bad for Bernie to model eating animals, he is not to blame for this—perhaps he lacks relevant knowledge (is partially ignorant about massive farmed animal suffering or how food purchases sustain it), or intentions (he intends simply to enjoy meals, not to sponsor massive farmed animal suffering). By contrast, the thought goes, Booker knowingly and intentionally has accepted big corporate money (at least prior to Feb. 2018), which will influence his decisions in favor of powerful corporate interests in a way injurious to ordinary working people.

    A few questions remain, including these:
    - How beholden is Booker to the interests of Wall Street, Big Pharma, etc.? Have these donations influenced his decisions problematically, or will they?
    - How good is Bernie Sanders for nonhumans?
    - If Booker is stuck with a 'corporate Democrat' image, will this compromise his ability to effectively advocate to make our food & agricultural system more ethical?

    1. I think that's plausible, but I'm not convinced. Most anti-Booker vegans make explicit claims as to why they're anti-Booker, and it's usually a bad position on a specific issue or set of issues.

      I really don't think he's that beholden to Wall Street or Big Pharma. One reason he "gets donations" from these industries is that most ways of counting donations include employees, and a lot of employees of both industries live in New Jersey. He's progressive on financial and health care issues (supports Medicare for All, e.g.). The interesting thing here is that I think Bernie lured him into a trap on this with a fake do-nothing amendment that he knew he wouldn't support, so in some way Bernie is the dishonest one.

      I think the so-called corporate thing can only interfere with his chances in the primary. If he got in office, I don't think it would affect his policies on the food system much: the main constraint would be politics in general, which constrain much radical action in that sphere.

      As an aside, I think Bernie would be good for nonhumans relative to a Republican or centrist Democrat, but I do genuinely think his laser-focus on inequality will lead to neglecting other issues.

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