How Cecil The Lion Exposed Our Partisan Differences & Opened Up A New, Even More Heated Debate

Since the death of protected Zimbabwe lion Cecil first made headlines on July 27, the ensuing fallout has been starkly divided between those protesting the actions of Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who killed the animal during an illegal bow-hunt, and big-game hunters defending Palmer's actions (a few have gone so far as to post their own hunting photos, in which they pose next to animals like brown bears, giraffe, and leopards). The lion's death, however, has also opened up an even greater fissure between members of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and pro-life advocates, both of whom claim that the public has become more impassioned over the killing of a wild animal than one of their own. Without a doubt, Cecil the lion has exposed the country's vast partisan differences, and put a whole new spin on an already heated argument.

On one side, of course, is the anti-abortion crowd, much of which tends to lean to the right side of the political aisle. Having already been fired up over the recent release of video footage that purportedly showed Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of fetal organs for cash, pro-life advocates were quick to jump on the media frenzy that followed Cecil's death and use it as their own talking point.

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Some in the pro-life movement have denounced the wild fervor over Cecil's death as unimpressive when compared to what they deemed senseless barbarism on the part of Planned Parenthood and its mostly liberal supporters.

"I don't get it ... [a lion] is killed and the uproar over this is relentless," wrote one Twitter user. "Abortions kill all the time and people defend it." Another Twitter user urged followers to consider the fact that "taxpayer dollars" were being used toward the "investigation of Cecil the lion (in a foreign country)" while simultaneously funding abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.

"Let that soak in," they wrote.

Even presidential candidates couldn't stay away from the juicy subject for long, with 2016 hopeful and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio taking time out of his afternoon on Wednesday last week to tweet:

Look at all this outrage over a dead lion, but where is all the outrage over the planned parenthood dead babies [?]

Backlash against Rubio and others like him employing the abortion narrative when speaking out about Cecil was fast and ferocious. An op-ed by columnist EJ Montini in The Detroit Free Press on Friday, for example, blasted the move as opportunistic and based in false premises.

"I respect the beliefs of ardent anti-abortion activists, and I appreciate their passion," said Montini. "But trying to compare levels of public outrage over the death of Cecil the lion with our reaction to the secret video tapes of Planned Parenthood executives is ludicrous."

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On the opposite side of the argument, but with equal amounts of frustration, was the #BlackLivesMatter movement (though it's officially nonpartisan, many of the movement's followers tend to lean toward the left end of the political spectrum). They argued that the public seemed to care more about Cecil than any of the black men and women who have lost their lives at the hands of police over the previous months. After a massive video projection of Cecil and other endangered or protected species was displayed on the side of the Empire State Building on Sunday, civil rights activists responded vehemently to what they perceived as the unfair attention being paid to a single animal.

"What about the faces/photos of unarmed citizens killed by police," questioned one Twitter user in response to the display, which was created by director Louie Psihoyos, whose 2009 Oscar-winning film The Cove followed the slaughter of dolphins in Japan. Other Twitter users compared the treatment of Cecil's death to the fallout over police shootings, decrying the imbalance as unjust.

"#CecilTheLion['s] death brings new laws, his image on Empire State," wrote one user. "Black people? A mug shot, smear campaigns and reload."

Native American activists, whose viral hashtag #NativeLivesMatter has been largely ignored by the mainstream media, also jumped on the trending topic. One op-ed columnist suggested mockingly that indigenous tribes ought to dress themselves as big cats to avoid being killed by law enforcement.

"It’s too political to say, 'Native Lives Matter,' but if we were cats, the left and right would be leaping to save us, and it wouldn’t be political; it would be human," wrote Terese Marie Mailhot on Monday. "I might be [okay] with being seen as an animal by the media if it meant our women would be looked for, or our men would have justice."

As both sides push back against the public outrage over Cecil's death, the government itself — now the undisputed middleman in the case — has decided to make its own move, with congressional members like Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) calling for increased respect for "the environment and all its inhabitants". Rep. Betty McCollum, co-chair of the International Congressional Conservation Caucus, also urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to investigate the issue and track down Palmer, who has since gone into hiding. Said McCollum in a statement on Wednesday last week:

To bait and kill a threatened animal, like this African lion, for sport cannot be called hunting, but rather a disgraceful display of callous cruelty. For those of us committed to ending poaching of iconic African species I strongly believe the U.S. Attorneys’ Office and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should investigate whether U.S. laws were violated related to conspiracy, bribery of foreign officials, and the illegal hunting of a protected species or animal. I will also continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pursue laws that protect iconic, threatened and endangered animals around the world from barbaric ‘sport hunting’ at the hands of ultra-wealthy elites.

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