Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bill Richardson and Cockfighting

Normally Albuquerque mayor Martin Chavez is the worst kind of Democrat--lap dog of big business, friend to developers, hater of youth culture. But he is right in his statement that New Mexico governor Bill Richardson needs to get off the fence and make a statement on cockfighting. Those of you who aren't from New Mexico are probably saying, Erik, what the hell are you talking about? Cockfighting?

But yes, cockfighting is legal in New Mexico. The Las Cruces Sun-News ran a story about Richardson riding the fence last week which was picked up by the excerable Matt Drudge and has since become a joke for Leno. If Richardson wants to be taken seriously as a presidental candidate, he needs to kill this issue now. His state is a national joke for having legal cockfights and he is a national joke as a waffling politician.

However, this is more complicated than it looks. Richardson clearly doesn't want to alienate animal-rights groups and cockfighting is certainly pretty damn offensive from that perspective. It's really hard to defend cockfighting. The one legitimate defense is precisely why Richardson doesn't want to make a statement on the issue--it is an old part of New Mexico culture and it is certainly part of the state's heritage. Cockfighting has been happening in the state for hundreds of years. As New Mexico's traditional culture changes under the impact of Anglo migration to the state and other forms of globalization, these kind of issues come under increasing scrutiny.

To what extent should we respect local customs in the face of increasingly homogenized America and world? When those customs are deeply offensive to the modern thinker, whether cockfighting in New Mexico, domestic violence in South Korea, prostitution in Thailand, or genital mutilation in Nigeria, to what extent do national and international communities have the right (or even the duty in certain cases) to condemn local practice? There's no easy answer. I think it has to depend on the individual case. I have no problem condemning Koreans for hitting their women or Africans for mutilating young women. There has to be certain standards of right and wrong that transcend local custom.

But what about something less obnoxious such as cockfighting. It seems likely that from a political perspective, Bill Richardson is going to have a hard time winning the Democratic nomination with this issue on his back. This isn't a bad thing since Richardson shouldn't be the nominee in any case. But balancing respect for local culture and condemning a pretty loathesome practice is not an easy proposition. Richardson's present plight certainly should give us something to think about.