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Terri Schiavo, political prisoner

By Nicholas Stix
web posted April 25, 2005

I know what you're thinking. Terri Schiavo, may she rest in peace, died on March 31. But indeed, she still "lives," and still functions in the same way she did before her passing, for partisans on the Left and Right alike: As a symbol for their respective causes.

The Right, Part I: I know, I know. You cared so much about Mrs. Schiavo that you obsessively called her "Terri," as if she were your sister or daughter or best friend. You claimed she "taught" us so much. What did she teach you? Anyone who claimed that Mrs. Schiavo taught him something was either projecting his own fantasies onto her, or insane. I don't see how either position shows any respect for the person that was Terri Schiavo.

Folks on the Right decided that morality trumped the law, so we didn't need to bother ourselves with legalistic fine points like Mr. Schiavo's legal rights, because he was a bad guy. Well, you know what? I've got morality and God on my side, so the next time one of you disagrees with me, I think I'll just blow your head off, because I too am above the law.

I didn't learn anything from Terri Schiavo, because I never knew her, and she hadn't communicated anything to anyone in 15 years. But I learned plenty from the people who claimed to speak on her behalf.

Heck, one conservative colleague even called another conservative colleague a "moral r--------t," which among Republican writers is like calling someone the "n"-word, and which is used as profligately by Republicans as the "n"-word is by urban blacks. (The frequency with which a Republican scribe uses the epithet "moral r--------t" is generally in inverse relation to his understanding of the concept.)

The Left, Part I: On the Left, statists who for fifty years had torn the Constitution to shreds, who called it a "living" document, who found new constitutional rights buried within penumbras within interstices, and who never saw a state court decision they opposed that didn't require a federal nullification and usurpation of state courts, suddenly became born-again, Constitutional conservatives who were ready to die for States' rights. Many leftists and secularists wanted to use Mrs. Schiavo to fight for euthanasia and so-called assisted suicide (translation: homicide), as part of their vision of a Netherlands-style humanitarian utopia, in which doctors who were as omniscient and all-benevolent as themselves would compassionately murder, er, end the suffering, of all considered superfluous to the state.

The Right, Part II: Cong. Tom DeLay and some fellow conservative Republicans claimed that the handling of the Schiavo case typified an out-of-control, activist judiciary, and that it is time to teach those black-robed scoundrels a lesson. That's a howler, since in the Schiavo case it was the judges who respected the law … for once.

DeLay and Co. remind me of a Jackie Mason joke. Mason tells of the difference between Jews and Italians, during his New York childhood. With the Jews, it was always, "If he says one more word!" Since in Mason's neighborhood, apparently, Jews generally didn't like to fight, somehow the Jews never heard the "word." But with the Italians it was the opposite. Boom, out of nowhere, an Italian would slug somebody, and everyone would ask, "What'd he say? What'd he say?"

In the story, "Terri and the Judges," Tom DeLay plays the Italian role. DeLay had been aching to "slug" a judge for the longest. And so he did, slugging non-activist judges, and then using the same story he'd saved up for the judicial activists.

DeLay also needs to rouse his own base and elude the Democrat-dominated posse that includes his old, liberal Republican nemesis, Connecticut Cong. Christopher Shays, which seeks to topple him as majority speaker. Most of the charges against DeLay are unsubstantiated or mere hearsay, excepting the charge that DeLay, in a legal but ethically dubious move, paid his wife and daughter hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations to work for him.

And I think the GOP had a very particular reason for continuing to play "Terri's Song." The party is heading towards schism over Pres. Bush's attempt to ram his stealth amnesty (aka guest worker plan) for illegal immigrants down the throats of a party rank-and-file that is overwhelmingly opposed to amnesty. However, that same rank-and-file is opposed to abortion, and sees the Schiavo case as part of a seamless garment of life. If the Party leadership could keep stoking the fire over Mrs. Schiavo, they figured they could burn off all that energy from the base that would otherwise go into fighting the President's lunatic amnesty (an amnesty that will economically destroy much of his base). And at the same time, a lot of ambivalent religious conservatives could play "Terri's Song" as an opportunity to distract themselves from their anger over the President's betrayal of them on immigration.

The Left, Part II: Love him or hate him – and I sure don't love him -- you have to give Jesse Jackson credit for being one smart political operator. While the DNC leadership clumsily seeks to pander to religious values (‘Hey, some of my best friends are racist, sexist, homophobic Christian nutjobs.'), and party sophist George Lakoff (and all his Democrat "mini-mes") tries to conjure up new ways to "frame" debate, so that Democrats will look as though they respect the religious beliefs of voters whom they hold in contempt, Jackson went down to Pinellas Park, Florida. He met with Mrs. Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, stood vigil outside the hospice where Mrs. Schiavo was dying, and prayed with the Christian crowd, which was overwhelmingly conservative and white.

Jackson said that "justice must be tempered with mercy," he said he came "gladly" (boy, did he ever!), and he got out his cell phone and called black political comrades in Florida, telling each, "I'm asking you for a favor," in seeking to get the state legislature to give a legislative solution one more shot.

I was very impressed. Unlike the DNC and George Lakoff, Jackson doesn't need an interpreter or an acting coach, in order to speak to Christians. Religious demagoguery comes so naturally to him, he can probably make himself swoon.

Jackson also said, "This is a moral issue and it transcends politics and family disputes."

If you think he believes that, I have a great deal for you on a slightly used bridge.

But I'm not blaming Jackson. He was triangulating, in the best tradition of Bill Clinton -- who also never had trouble with "God-talk" -- to save the Democrat Party, a party which to a large degree is in its current fix because of Jackson's own success at chasing away white Christians, and to save his own political skin.

The party desperately needs to bring conservative Democrats back into the fold, and maybe even win over some Republicans. If you recall, Madame Hillary has made two overtures to the Right in recent months, in softening her approach on abortion, and in taking a way-to-the-right-of-the-GOP leadership (but not to the right of the base) position on illegal immigration. Jackson's trip to Florida may have been a calculated bit of more of the same. Note, too, that DNC apologists – no doubt following Prof. Sophist, er, Lakoff, keep telling us that Howard Dean is a "moderate Democrat." And Jackson desperately needs to show that he is not exclusively a politically alienating force, where Southern whites are concerned.

The Right, Part III. The RNC, which unlike the Democrats, will tell you that they never play wag-the-dog, poll-driven politics, saw poll results saying that "Terri's Song" was not selling among the American people. (Somehow, the party elites feel they can ignore poll results saying that they are wrong on immigration, while slavishly responding to poll results regarding Mrs. Schiavo and congressional filibusters.) And so, the party leadership doesn't want to beat a dead woman anymore. Unfortunately, the party base does, and not beating Mrs. Schiavo will bring us back to that little problem symbolically centered these days around Cochise County, Arizona, in addition to making the leadership look like hypocrites who only care about expediency. And so, the RNC may face the Hobson's choice of schism between party elites and base over immigration or schism over Mrs. Schiavo.

The Left, Part III. Well, if the RNC has decided that you can't beat a dead woman, the DNC is stomping her with abandon. As DNC Chairman Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and past and future presidential candidate said on April 15, "We're going to use Terri Schiavo later on." He really said that!

Some people never learn.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times' Michael Finnegan, as Dean told a group of wealthy gay activists, Access Now for Gay and Lesbian Equality, in West Hollywood,

This is going to be an issue in 2006, and it's going to be an issue in 2008, because we're going to have an ad with a picture of Tom DeLay saying, 'Do you want this guy to decide whether you die or not? Or is that going to be up to your loved ones?'…

The issue is: Are we going to live in a theocracy where the highest powers tell us what to do? Or are we going to be allowed to consult our own high powers when we make very difficult decisions?

Finnegan wrote,

Before Schiavo's death, the Republican-controlled Congress passed legislation giving her parents the right to take action in federal court to have her feeding tube reinserted, but no judge intervened….

Although Democrats voted for the measure, Dean said it provided an opportunity to showcase what he called Republican intrusiveness in the lives of Americans.

In the Gospel According to Howard, if Democrats and Republicans both vote in favor of federal intervention in a private matter, the Republicans are somehow deserving of contempt, but Democrats are not.

If the confused former governor meant "higher power," he was either using a euphemism for God, in which case one must ask why Christians' "higher power" is not permitted (I'm sure Dean would never be so disrespectful towards Muslims); or he was using New Age jargon for the ego, in which he was saying that every individual (as long as he isn't a Christian, I guess), is God. Apparently, Dean wants to lock up the atheist, narcissist, and confused votes early.

It doesn't seem to have occurred to Dean, that any political capital he may gain from attack ads using pictures of Tom DeLay will be offset by pictures and audio of Dean addressing Access Now for Gay and Lesbian Equality, where he even went so far as to attack fellow Democrats, in espousing his ardent support for gay marriage.

What I really object to is Democrats who support the constitutional ban [on gay marriage], because I think putting in constitutional discrimination in either the United States Constitution or individual state constitutions is wrong.

Meanwhile, Dean has managed to destroy all the good will Jesse Jackson had worked so hard to earn with white Evangelicals. You don't think Dean is secretly on the take from the RNC, do you?

The Right, Part IV. Stay tuned.

The Left, Part IV. Ditto.

As I wrote earlier, my friend Jim Bowman has convinced me that moral issues do come into play in the Terri Schiavo case, but I believe that they are a matter of private whispers, prayers, and tears. When it comes to the megaphones of public debate, however, Mrs. Schiavo remains a prisoner of power politics.

Nicholas Stix can be reached at add1dda@aol.com.

 

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