David Davenport, of the Hoover Institute, speaking of the Terri Schiavo case: "When a case like this has been heard by 19 judges in six courts and it’s been appealed to the Supreme Court three times, the process has worked - even if it hasn’t given the result that the social conservatives want."
An even more blunt assessment of the situation, from Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA): "If you don’t want a decision to be made politically, why in the world do you ask 535 politicians to make it?"
Mr. Frank’s answer can be found in a Republican staff memo circulated last week. It called the Schiavo case "a great political issue."
A brief review: In 1990 Terri Schiavo, at the age of 26, suffered extensive brain damage when her heart stopped, attributed to an undiagnosed potassium deficiency. Since that time she has been in what her doctors call a "persistent vegetative state." After eight years, Ms. Schiavo’s husband went to a Florida state court seeking permission to have her feeding tube removed, allowing her to die. Ms. Schiavo’s parents have opposed that move, and the case went through a natural progression of judges and doctors - as well as an unnatural progression of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the Florida legislature, and the Florida Supreme Court.
Ultimately - repeatedly - permission has been granted to allow Ms. Schiavo to die.
Enter the U.S. Congress and George W. Bush.
On Monday Mr. Bush - after extraordinary efforts spearheaded by the Republican right - signed into law a bill to transfer jurisdiction of the Schiavo case to a U.S. district court. The purpose of this law, according to Mr. Bush, was to "stand on the side of those defending life for all Americans, including those with disabilities." Or, as press secretary Scott McClellan put it, "The president believes that a culture of life is built on valuing life at all stages."
First, let’s address the obvious hypocrisy. From Newsday, 3/22/05: "As Texas governor, George W. Bush signed a law that allows hospitals to pull the plug on critically ill patients despite family objections - the kind of court-authorized move the president and fellow Republicans are challenging in the Terri Schiavo case. Just last Tuesday, the Texas law resulted in what some call a U.S. first, when a Houston hospital cut off life support for a badly deformed 6-month-old baby after his mother lost a court challenge. The baby died almost immediately."
So much for the "culture of life." When confronted with this conflict, Mr. McClellan had this to say: "The legislation [Mr. Bush] signed is consistent with his views."
Hard to argue with that. In fact, Mr. Bush’s views have been consistent - he’s a consistently amoral opportunist. He’s an anti-abortion warmonger, an advocate of torture who’ll seek political gain from the tragedy of Terri Schiavo.
It’s possible, however, that Mr. Bush may have miscalculated this time. He has played to his evangelical base but ignored the fact that the majority of Americans are in stark disagreement with his actions. In an ABC News poll, seventy percent of the people said it was inappropriate for Congress to get involved in the case; only twenty-eight percent support maintaining Ms. Schiavo’s existence through the use of a feeding tube.
Almost eighty-percent say they would not want to be kept alive in such a fashion.
Even among conservatives, this case has caused friction.
Toby Fabrizio, Republican pollster: "It goes beyond shameless politics…we are no longer a party of smaller government. We have become a party of ‘It doesn’t matter what size government is as long as it is imposing our set of values.’"
Sen. John Warner (R-VA): "…you’ve got to separate your own emotions from the duty to support the Constitution of this country…In the ranks of the Republican Party, there is not a unanimous view that Congress should be taking this step."
Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT): "My party is demonstrating that they are for states’ rights unless they don’t like what states are doing…This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy. There are going to be repercussions from this vote. There are a number of people who feel the government is getting involved in their personal lives in a way that scares them."
It should be noted that the bill signed into law by George W. Bush gives "any parent of Theresa Marie Schiavo" the right to pursue her case in federal court. In the words of legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, "There’s actually a provision in the Constitution called a bill of attainder. And what that means in under the Constitution, the Congress is not allowed to pass a law directed at a specific person. Under our Constitution, we can’t make laws about specific people."
Hypocritical, intrusive, callous, unprincipled, and blatantly unconstitutional. Scott McClellan is correct - Mr. Bush is being consistent with his views. Let’s hope Rep. Shays is also correct - if ever a case deserved "repercussions," this one is it.