March 21, 2005

It's All About the Politics

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The Republicans have themselves another winner of a socially charged political affair in Terri Schiavo. The bill they want to pass (the Republican Senate already has, the Republican House is poised to), in the end, won't change a single thing, of course--it simply seeks to put the dispute back into court. They claim she has not received due process. Now, the courts have ruled on this extensively; it has gone up to and beyond the Florida State Supreme Court and up to the United States Supreme Court--three times--and the answer has always come back the same. Law professor Norman Cantor of Rutgers University has pointed out that Terri Schiavo has "gotten more due process than any patient in medical history."

Still, the bill proposed by Congress sidesteps the case into lower federal courts, and stacks the odds in favor of one side: it would effectively erase every single standing judgment before it, it would get rid of every scrap of judgment by all 19 judges who have ruled on the case, every legal determination, every finding and decision, and force the federal courts to start over from the start. In other words, since every decision has gone in favor of Terri's stated wishes as brought forth by her husband, all of those decisions would be wiped out, and things would start all over again. The U.S. Congress, essentially the Republicans who loudly proclaim themselves to be champions of states' rights, are (once again) wresting a politically charged case out of a state's hands because they don't like what the state did, and asserting full federal control over it. In other words, they're again showing what flaming hypocrites they're willing to be if a juicy political dessert can be gained from it.

Of course, Republicans are denying this, saying that it is "disgusting to even suggest" that politics plays a part in this--a statement that is so ludicrous as to be laughable. Many Republicans are shamelessly touting the fact that this will be a big winner in next year's elections, that they can argue they were trying to save a poor woman from being killed, while Democrats wanted to viciously and mercilessly slay her. Don't believe me? Republicans circulated a talking points memo to their people saying the case would be "an important moral issue and the pro life base will be excited," and that it is a "great political issue because Sen. Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a co-sponsor and this is a tough issue for Democrats." Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist denounced the memo publicly, but he very well could have written it privately, seeing from his actions. Conservative segments of society are already calling the Democrats the "party of death," and pundits are laying the invective on full force.

What is at the center of all this is perhaps the politically charged issue for a long time, abortion. Conservatives have their language already crafted: the culture of life. The other side, they say, is the culture of death. All crap, of course--these same people approve of war, torture, execution, abandoning children in hopeless poverty, and so on. But they want to deny people the freedom to make their own choices on abortion, they want to prohibit terminally ill patients from taking effective medication to alleviate their pain or from ending a pointless existence with no hope for anything but excruciating pain until they die in agony, and they want to keep irreversibly vegetative corpses artificially living--so they're the "culture of life."

The same "culture of life" that sends its people off to kill doctors, and which now has forced a prominent judge who did his job as the law demands to have 'round the clock police protection because of all the death threats he's received from model members of the "culture of life." The same people who bomb clinics and assault women entering them, shoving bloody photos in their faces and screaming that they are murderers. People who, when they became involved in the case, instantly turned to malicious slander against Terri's husband, calling him a wife abuser, murderer, out for money and death... yup, these are real sweethearts, these people.

But they bring in the votes, which is why the entire Republican party is in high gear to produce what is almost certainly an unconstitutional law. They know it won't help. They know it's all bullshit. But it takes everyone's attention away from the real issues--from the high-end issues like the shameful anti-voter bankruptcy bill, the dismantling of social security, the war in Iraq and theft of billions of taxpayer dollars, right down to the small-time yet still significant scandals like the Bush administration using tax dollars to produce hundreds of political ads with fake reporters. The subversion of the media, the dismantling of social support systems, the steady transfer of wealth from the middle-class to the rich--none of these is as important, apparently, as keeping a woman's body alive, even though she herself died years ago, and left behind a breathing corpse with spinal fluid where her brain should be.

But still, Republicans claim that they are fighting this fight only to save Terri's life. Really? Well, then, what about the other hundreds or thousands of cases just like this, nationwide, which play out every day? Florida's Republicans made a law just for Terri Schiavo, and the current law in the U.S. Congress is, according to Frist, "a unique bill" that "should not serve as a precedent for future legislation." They do nothing to stop others from having feeding tubes removed. And as it has been pointed out, if Terri Schiavo had been a minority woman whose brain death were caused by drug use, they would be nowhere near this case.

It could not be more blatant or clear. This is all about politics, and is about nothing else. Terri Schiavo left the building long ago. The "right to lifers" know this, but see her as a sympathetic case upon which they can launch their political agenda. Republicans in Congress know this, but they see her as a sympathetic figure which they can launch their 2006 campaigns off with. And this is nothing new. Bush shamelessly used the dead of 9/11 to start a war and win a few elections. So what's the memory of one dead woman to stop them from gouging whatever political advantage they can from this?

Posted by Luis at March 21, 2005 03:20 PM

There is an implicit tampering with 'human evil' here. In his book "The People of the Lie" F. Scott Peck M.D., the author made famous by his prior book "The Road Less Traveled." States that humans are at their worst when they are least accountable for their actions. Peck came to this conclussion after studying the cause and effect of the Mai Lai Massacre (sic). At the time Peck was an Army Psychiatrist trying to get to the bottom of this event. A lack of accountability was part of his assessment. But an important part of determining a source for Human Evil.

I once read where Hitler once said "as for myself, I would never tell a lie, but for Germany I would tell 10,000 lies" (If only he had stopped at 10,000!!!). What you see from this statement is the elevation of a cause that transcends good and evil, then underneath this cause one sheds accountability for ones actions and slips into a state of performing an evil act.

This is not an uncommon phenomina. BinLaden is doing the same thing, except he is hiding his unaccountability behind religion and the Koran. In 1964 Barry Goldwater said "Extremism in defence of liberty is no vice." Well, as it turns out, yes it is. And in 1964 Americans had the good sense of seeing through this.

But that was then and this is now. Today, rightwing religious fundementalist, under the cry of religion and the culture of life are shedding accountability for their actions and underneath the cover of that cause are ripping at the constitution, due process and commiting their own acts of violence.

This tragectory is heading for something truely awful. What it is, I can't tell and do not know. But it would seem that we are in for a huge correctioning of our instrumentailities and our institutions.

Posted by: Tim Kane at March 22, 2005 12:18 AM

You speak the truth brother!!!

Posted by: Rotchimus at March 22, 2005 04:13 AM

CNN is running a poll asking who should be making the decision in this case. When I voted, it was 78% saying the husband should make the decision.

I suspect this issue might backfire on the Republicans. I agree with Luis' linked commentator that said the politicians passed the bill knowing the courts would reject it as a law; it's Constitutionally wrong on so many issues it's incredible.

What's more, thousands of people are faced with this kind of decision every year, and I suspect that the vast majority of them are NOT going to want the government sticking its nose into their business.

The crass, calculating manner and intent of this law and action by the Republicans is astonishing in its level of blatant grandstanding and hypocrisy, and it turns my stomach. American politics has sunk to a new low.

I just moved into a new Congressional district, but my old district's newly elected Congressman (Dave Reichert, R-WA) was one of only 5 Republicans to vote against this bill. I just knocked out a letter apologizing to him for voting against him; he has earned my admiration and support from now on.

If only more Congressmen from BOTH parties had the cojones to stand up for what they believe in...


Posted by: Enumclaw at March 23, 2005 03:00 AM

We should be really careful about saying that this is purely a "political issue" and negatively connoting it; this is how politics gets a bad name. For instance, it is a very political question whether Michael Schiavo or his parents have the authority to decide what Terry would want, and the relationship of personal decisions like this to their legal framework is a political question, too.

We've somehow lost touch with what the meaning of the word "political" means (from polis, "the city," politics is simply "the affairs of the city") and as such our discourse is paralyzed. So whenever liberals have a gripe conservatives accuse them of being "political" as if it were some kind of mal-intent. And vice versa.

What is shameful and abhorrent in this case is not the political issue--whether people have the right to die and whether artificial life support past a certain point is ethical, for example, are important questions--but rather how Republicans are simply manipulating the issue for their own strategic purposes. Tossing accusations at Michael, abusing the levers of governmental power, and using Terry as a rallying point to grab more power strikes me as morbid and unethical, but the fact that it is a political issue does not contribute to that sense of revulsion.

I hope that made sense; the general idea is that politics has gotten a bad name, we have forgotten what it means and the result is that we can't have any kind of political discourse.

Posted by: Justin Faulkner at March 23, 2005 11:24 PM