Animal Crackers

A new book reveals a conservative speechwriter's more sensitive side

The other day, The Spike grabbed a bag of pork rinds and sat down to read Dominion, the forthcoming book by presidential speechwriter and former Arizona political gadfly Matthew Scully.

Big mistake.

The subtitle of this book is The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.

It's hard to answer the call for mercy when you're stuffing deep-fried pig skins down your throat.

Particularly during Chapter Six, which takes place mainly at hog farms.

The Spike will spare the details for readers who might also be on the suddenly popular protein diet. After a summer of scarfing down flank steak, chicken and baby back ribs (hold the sauce), The Spike just couldn't stomach this book — although it's very well-written. But that's okay, because the author of the book is way more interesting than the book itself.

Matthew Scully is a man of contradictions. Can you think of another animal rights activist who served in the upper echelons of the Quayle and Dubya administrations? Then again, can you think of another person who's worked for former Arizona governors Mecham, Mofford and Symington — and had good things to say about all three?

The Spike has never actually met Matthew Scully. But on the phone, he sounds likes he's wearing a suit and tie. That's unlikely, since he's at home in suburban Virginia in mid-August. Scully sounds almost English, although he was born in Wyoming. Maybe that's from hanging around William F. Buckley Jr. at the National Review.

The Spike actually put away the pork rinds during the interview, afraid Scully would stop in the midst of an impassioned plea to halt the production of gelatin to ask, "What's that noise?"

Actually, some of Scully's best friends are carnivores. Scully cut his political and journalistic teeth on the hides of professors at Arizona State University, where he and his pal Jay Heiler (you might remember Heiler as Fife Symington's chief of staff — now he's pimping for Matt Salmon) berated all things Left in the editorial pages of the State Press in the mid-'80s.

Heiler enjoys a good piece of meat. The Spike has watched him devour a rare filet at Durant's. But Heiler fondly recalls eating Morningstar Farms soy burgers with Scully during college. Heiler did draw the line at soy sausage.

Scully stopped eating meat in the summer of 1974. He was 15. His mother took him to the doctor. The doctor told her to leave him alone, that her son's choice was a healthy one. Scully doesn't remember exactly why he stopped. He had done some reading about animal rights, but the choice had more to do with his pet dog, Lucky.

As the years passed, Scully admits he bent the rules. If served meat, he would eat it. He's a kinder, gentler vegetarian — he didn't want to insult anyone with his own choice. That's quite different from the garden-variety vegetarians The Spike has encountered: self-righteous know-it-alls who just can't wait to sneer and gag as you pull apart a tasty chicken wing.

Of course, what was Scully going to do, point out to Vice President Dan Quayle that the ham sandwich he was munching had been created during a torture session?

Scully wasn't exactly hanging out with a sympathetic crowd. He left ASU in 1985, without a degree, and "wandered" for a while, morphing his interests in journalism and politics into jobs for Ev Mecham and Rose Mofford. ("Dust off some of the windier proclamations for, like, Arizona Cotton Day. I might have had a hand in that.") Eventually he left Arizona for the East, writing for the Washington Times and National Review before finally landing his dream job as a vice presidential speechwriter in 1991. He figured he wasn't experienced enough to write for the president.

Quayle was a good editor, Scully says, asking his speechwriters to pare down ornate language. He wanted his speeches simple. (The Spike resisted the urge to tease Scully here.)

All this time, with all this access to the highest levels of power — through media and politics — Scully kept quiet about his pet interest. He didn't keep it a secret, but he didn't try to change public policy, didn't sidle up to Quayle at White House barbecues and grill him about chicken packing.

Again, the guy's way too polite. And let's face it: He was probably concerned about job security. He didn't start writing about animal rights at all until the mid-'90s, when he found himself in the middle of a job drought for Republican vice presidential speechwriters. Heiler was kind enough to arrange some speechwriting gigs with Symington — in fact, Scully worked on three of Fife's State of the State speeches — but mainly, he did freelance writing. He started to write about his hatred for sport hunting and got the idea for a book.

He signed a contract in April 1999. Three months later, the Bush campaign called. Scully and his wife, Emanuelle, headed south to Texas — the capital of cattle ranching and sport hunting — and he began to multi-task. He'd rise at 4 a.m. to work on the book, then spend the rest of the day writing speeches. When Bush was elected, Scully was named a senior White House speechwriter.

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