Majority Rejects Hypocrisy of Bush's 'Culture of Life'


3-28-05, 9:03 am

According to the CNN/USA Today/Gallup nationwide poll, President Bush's job-approval rating has sunk to lowest point of his presidency due, at least in part, to public opposition to his intervention in the Terri Schiavo case.

The public simply rejected Bush's support for the Congressional effort to intervene in the personal affairs of the Schiavo family and to pressure the federal courts to overturn past court decisions that accepted Terri Schiavo's wishes.

Your Private Life is not Off Limits for GOP Strategists

A recent Los Angeles Times story says the Terri Schiavo intervention was a blunder for Bush and the Republicans as it reveals a GOP 'credibility gap.' The Republicans haven't adequately explained to the public how their intervention in this case doesn't contradict their demand for smaller government and the replacement of so-called activist judges in the federal judiciary. Political gain isn’t the only thing some right-wing groups hope to gain from Terri Schiavo’s tragedy. Traditional Values Coalition, which normally focuses its congressional lobbying efforts on blocking equal rights for gay people, is using the issue as a fundraiser. This move prompted criticism – even from conservative groups – that the Traditional Values Coalition might appear to be profiting from a tragedy and might be using dishonest methods to do so, according to the New York Time.

Traditional Values Coalition founder Louis Sheldon has accused gay people of being followers of Hitler and public schools of trying to destroy society.

'Err on the side of life'

In his remarks while signing the Republican bill intervening in the Schiavo family's private life, Bush said he would prefer to 'err on the side of life.' But one legal expert told the Los Angeles Times that he could not 'imagine [the Republicans] interrupting an Easter recess to come back for special legislation because there was a possibility that someone on death row was innocent.'

In his tenure as Texas governor, Bush led all governors in signing death warrants. In fact, according to Atlantic Monthly, the 150 men and women executed during Bush's 6-year governorship is 'a record unmatched by any other governor in modern American history.'

Memos describing the legal arguments in death penalty cases sent by Alberto Gonzales (then Bush's legal counsel, now Attorney General) to Bush reveal that 'Governor Bush frequently approved executions based on only the most cursory briefings on the issues in dispute,' says Alan Berlow of the Atlantic Monthly.

In numerous cases where serious disputes on legal issues such as 'ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence' existed, the Gonzales-Bush team only once offered clemency or stays of execution.

One case where the Gonzales-Bush record shows unusually extensive discussion was the case of Karla Faye Tucker, executed in 1998. In this case, Bush claims that signing her death warrant was 'one of the hardest things I have ever done.' He now says that he even lost sleep over it.

Yet in the 2000 campaign, even Republican presidential candidates who strongly support the death penalty lashed out at Bush for publicly mocking Karla Faye Tucker's plea for mercy.

Even further, Bush has refused to support a call for a moratorium on the use of capital punishment so that issues related to the use of DNA technology to determine guilt or innocence in some cases can be sorted out.

Supporters of the moratorium, including the former Republican governor of Illinois, George Ryan, say that we cannot be sure that innocent people aren't being put to death.

Bush certainly chose not to 'err on the side of life' in the case of Gary Graham (aka Shaka Sankofa) an African American prisoner who was executed in Texas during the 2000 presidential campaign. Despite DNA evidence of Graham's innocence, then Texas Governor Bush refused to sign a stay of execution and insisted that justice was being done.

Critics charged that Bush used Graham's execution as a campaign maneuver to prove his strength on the crime issue.

The war on Iraq is another point on which Bush dogmatically refused to 'err on the side of life.' When critics of the drive for war wanted more evidence for the reasons Bush offered for the necessity of war – Iraq's possession of WMD, the imminence of the threat with that WMD, and their responsibility for 9/11 – Bush brushed them aside.

It is clear that the US intelligence apparatus knew that the WMD and terrorism rationale did not hold up. Critics were accused of 'un-Americanism' and the rush to war pushed on. Since then more 1,500 US soldiers have been killed and over 100,000 Iraqis have died (according to estimates offered in British medical journal The Lancet).

Bush successfully used the war on Iraq and the terrorism fear to squeak out a razor thin victory over Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. The Bush campaign notoriously implied repeatedly that if Bush wasn't returned to office, terrorists would attack the US again, and many would be killed.

Since the November 2, 2004 election, the Department of Homeland Security's 'threat advisory' was lowered from 'high' (code orange) to 'elevated' (code yellow) on November 10, 2004 where it has remained since, despite continued activities by Osama Bin Laden, and his call for Iraq-based terrorist Zarqawi to attack US targets.

A casual observer might note that just days after the election, the terrorism issue simply disappeared off the radar.

Finally, while Bush interrupted – for the first time in his two terms – one of his numerous vacation periods in Texas to return to Washington to sign the Schiavo intervention bill, he remained silent on the deadliest high school shooting in US history.

Several days after Jeff Weise killed 9 members of the Red Lake Indian nation and himself at a high school in Northern Minnesota last week, Bush had failed to make any sort of statement. Indian leaders accused him of not being concerned about the lives of American Indians while taking extra care to get as much publicity for his intervention in the Schiavo case as possible.

His political instincts led him to declare immediately his support for the Schiavo intervention, but no such 'culture of life' instinct prompted him to say one syllable about Jeff Weise and 9 dead Indian children.

American Indians rarely support Republican initiatives, do not have millions to give to campaign coffers, and don't equal the political power of the ultra right Christian fundamentalist base of the GOP.

The GOP's Real Agenda

So if opposition to big government and the 'culture of life' and are really hoaxes for political gain, what is the Republican Party’s real agenda?

It is pretty simple. The rhetoric against 'big government' is not meant to provide us with more freedom, but to mobilize support for the Party as it attempts to privatize popular programs such as public education, Social Security, Medicare, and other public programs that the majority of Americans benefit from daily.

They think if you side with them on the Schiavo intervention, you will support their effort to hand trillions of dollars of Social Security money over to private investment firms or the federal treasury over to the very rich with tax cuts. Maybe, you will even sit idly by while they slash funding for public schools, anti-poverty programs, and environmental protection.

It is no secret that the GOP wants public resources turned over to the private sector to fatten its bottom line.

While the majority of Americans understand that turning over public resources to private industry is a recipe for price gouging, corruption, theft, inefficiency, and waste, the GOP's real ideological orientation is to side with the corporate beneficiaries of privatization. That is where they get the vast majority of their campaign resources and is where most of them have come to politics from or are planning to go after their political careers end.

This time they went too far.

--Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs and may be reached at