Terri Schiavo and the Right's 'Culture of Life'

3-24-05, 1:38 pm

I was thinking of our country’s long struggle for a democracy of substance – from workers’ rights to civil rights and equality – as I watched the sad and sinister debates concerning Terry Schiavo. She has been, according to reliable press reports, without upper brain functions for 15 years, and her existence has now be reduced to a political pool game orchestrated by the Bush administration. I say political pool rather than political football, because the Republicans are cynically taking their shots to put their political opponent in a hole with anti-abortion voters, and using the Schiavo family and their attorneys to set up their shots. Bush talks endlessly about a democracy without content abroad while he attacks the democracy we have long had here at home The Schiavo human tragedy has no meaning for Bush, Karl Rove and their right-wing Republican political machine. A handful of right Republican medical doctors in Congress, for example, beginning with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, make statements about a patient that they have never seen, disregarded the extensive medical evidence that Florida state courts have reviewed over and over again. This is the same party which is 'crusading' to limit financial awards and the scope of medical malpractice suits.

Separation of Powers? The federal Congress can’t pass laws on the spot which throw a state case into the federal court system overnight, but the right-wing Republicans did it. Due process? Congress can’t pass laws overnight without investigations, committee hearings, even if the committees are shams, but the right-wing Republicans did it.

Federalism? The Republicans, who have advertised themselves as the party of 'states rights' and enemy of 'big government' since the 1930s, jump in and bring the federal government down on what has always been a local and state matter. In the 19th century, the well paid attorneys for the corporations and the rich liked to say, 'we are a government of laws, not of men,' when it came to opposing progressive legislation, getting injunctions to smash strikes, and appealing to an 'activist judiciary' to protect their class interests. Not even they could make such statements today with a straight face.

The Republicans, who joined (morphed with may be a better term) the segregationist Democrats in the 1960s in crusading against 'activist federal judges, meaning those judges who overturned segregation, established protections for indigent defendants and limited police abuses in the Gideon and Miranda rulings, and later legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade, are now playing the 'high balls' of the federal judiciary against the 'low balls' for the Florida state judiciary (the pool analogy again) expecting that either way, they will win. If the federal courts rule in their favor, they will claim credit. If the federal courts rule against them, they will denounce activist judges!

But they are defending life support even though Bush as governor of Texas signed legislation that permitted hospitals, for fiscal reasons, to cut off life support systems even if family members objected.

MoveOn.org, the progressive internet group, has mobilized a petition against this insanity which I was happy to sign and which I would urge everyone to sign. The Bush administration really assumes that the people that they are talking to don’t know or care to know about the facts of the case, don’t care about due process, checks and balances, the most elemental protections that exist in the U.S. Constitution, regardless of where you stand politically. They are proclaiming themselves 'the party of God' (a name used by one of the right-wing Islamic groups in the Near East) and telling those Americans they are talking to that God is always on their side in their definitions of everything from war and peace to the life of one severely brain damaged woman who has been in a vegetative state for fifteen years.

Those of us, meaning the majority of Americans who are non members of 'the party of God' and to whom they stopped speaking long ago must register our rage and outrage at what they are doing and commit ourselves to decisively defeating them if we are to prevent them from doing to us what they, assisted by the cowardly appeasement policy of many congressional Democrats, are now doing to the Schiavo and Schindler families.

In my message on Moveon.org, I quoted Joseph Welch’s famous reply to Joe McCarthy, in the Army McCarthy Hearings. McCarthy also thought that he could say and do anything he wanted as long as it was prefaced by red-baiting rather than religious pieties. 'Have you no sense of decency, Sir … Have you no sense of decency.' This is what we should be all shouting at the Bush administration for what they are doing to the constitution, and, as kids say in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Republic for which it Stands.

--Reach Norman Markowitz at pa-letters@politicalaffairs.net.