Many rodeo-goers expressed surprise, even shock, at the announcement that former United States president Bill Clinton would be the keynote speaker at the 2012 World Rodeo Convention in Houston, Texas. For one, media sources have in recent years reported that Clinton is vegan (in contrast to rodeos, which are not). Moreover, the theme of Clinton's presentation - vegetarianism - struck sheer terror in cowboys' hearts.
In other words, it was hardly an audience predisposed to "green talk," as one cowboy, Percy Jones, put it. "But I have to admit," recounted Jones, "he won me over. He made vegetarianism seem accessible."
Clinton began his keynote address by explaining that as someone who prides himself on telling it like it is, he also does his best to give credit where credit is due - even to people who have been demonized by society and whose ideas have, for that reason, been rejected part and parcel, rather than evaluated objectively.
"To me," said Clinton, "that's just throwing out the baby with the bathwater."
He advised the crowd that suspending moral judgment would allow them to more effectively assess the utilitarian value of particular concepts or notions. He went on to note that it was his own (highly renowned) ability to disregard moral considerations that had helped him to recognize the brilliance of Adolf Hitler's views on meat.
Some of the more sensitive women and children in the rodeo stadium were notably startled at Clinton's laudatory reference to Hitler. However, the more seasoned cowboys, like Jones, took Clinton's bold statement in stride.
As Jones later said, "It intrigued me. I agree that Hitler hasn't really been given his due. Bill Clinton got me listening right there."
Clinton continued, "Hitler is known for his racism, his white-supremacist philosophy, his anti-Semitism, and his acts of violence upon other human beings. But what some of you may not know is that many historical texts describe Hitler as a vegetarian. That label's not entirely accurate. Hitler's approach to diet was much more sophisticated than merely avoiding eating meat."
Clinton went on to explain, "Hitler never actually gave up meat. What he did do, at various points in his life, was reduce his meat intake for health reasons." Here, the natural orator paused a moment for effect. "And that right there was a really smart idea."
The cowboys in the crowd weren't nodding, but they were still listening; the former president hadn't been thrown off the rodeo bull just yet.
"Hitler, who made 'white supremacy' a household term, would most likely take great offense at being grouped with ordinary vegetarians," opined Clinton. "Vegetarians are known for their compassion for other living creatures, their concern for the environment, and their acknowledgment that human animals are only one variety of many, many earthling animals and have no inherent right to torture and slaughter other living, sentient beings for no justifiable reason.
"Hitler, on the other hand, had no interest in any of those things. He just changed his diet because he was worried about his health. That's a very important distinction that most people miss. And the reason I'm able to see it so clearly is that I did the very same thing.
"Now, you've probably heard that I'm a vegan. I'd like to set the record straight. What actually happened was, I had heart bypass surgery and after that, in order to save my own life, I shifted to a largely plant-based diet. But I still eat fish sometimes. Fish are certainly alive and can feel pain, and the fishing industry has obliterated countless species of wildlife and is killing our ecosystem. That being said, eating a little fish now and again doesn't hurt me too much.
"Vegans generally care about animals, the environment, and their health. If you use that triage as your basis for analysis, I'm barely even one-third vegan. And since I'm less than half-vegan, I should really be rounded down to a non-vegan."
"Just like us!" called out a rowdy cowboy.
Clinton nodded his agreement. "Exactly! Now, Hitler had his bad points. But he was smart to reduce meat rather than eliminate it entirely from his diet. He was also smart for doing it for health reasons rather than for any other less selfish reasons. It worked for him, it worked for me, and it can work for you, too. I'm living proof that Hitler-style vegetarianism can change your life for the better. Hell, I lost 24 pounds!"
The positive message from the healthy, happy, morally neutral politician elicited hoops and hollers from the rodeo crowd.
Clinton closed with a sugary dose of his famous southern charm. "And in case you're wondering, I'll never try to take away your rodeo. Sure, these rodeo animals may be abused and mistreated, but their abuse and mistreatment isn't hurting my health. So I say, ride on, my friends. Ride on!"