Back in October, in one of my first posts, I compared the ethos of the Bush Administration to the SDS in the 1960s. (At least two leaders of the "conservative" movement actually belonged to the SDS: Melvin Olasky, the Bush confidante who coined the phrase "compassionate conservatism," and William Bennett.) Driven only by ideology, they have no respect either for normal procedures or for other peoples' opinions--they care only about making their ideology supreme. The sad case of Terri Schiavo proves this.
There is hardly a major principle of Amerian law or political life that Republicans have not compromised to make political capital out of this issue and impose their vision of "life" on the United States. Terri Schiavo's case has been adjudicated and studied more thoroughly than any similar case in history. Yesterday NPR interviewed the Florida doctor (who also teaches law) who had spent about a year studying Terri, evaluating her condition, and making recommendations. Not only did he confirm very impressively that all indicators showed she was in a completely vegetative state and capable of only random responses, but he also referred to at least two documented times at which Terri, at funerals for relatives who had spent time on life support, had remarked that she would never want to be kept alive that way. It is not even clear that her parents have disputed this; they argue that she should be kept alive because THEY want it. In short, there is really nothing in the public record to suggest that Michael Schiavo was anything but the caring spouse he claimed to be, or to dispute his argument that he is trying to do what his wife would have wanted. But the Bush brothers--first Governor Jeb, then President George--have trampled upon his feelings and Terri's rights to make a political point, extending the sad drama year after year after year.
Nor is this all. The Congress, of course, showed a disgraceful lack of respect for the rights of the Florida judicial system by passing emergency legislation, simply because the Republican majority rejected the decision it had reached. (The parallel with the Republican Supreme Court majority in 2000 is obvious.) Worst of all, Dr. Bill Frist, the Republican majority leader, disregarded every tenet of medical ethics by rejecting the diagnosis of Terri's doctor based on his on viewing of a home video! "What kind of a doctor is he?" a young friend of mine asked. "A video doctor," her father replied. "He makes diagnoses from video." One hopes that the AMA may step in to remind Dr. Frist of his obligations to his colleagues, as well as to his constituents.
A courageous federal district judge has now thrown out the complaint, and we must await the Appeals court. Whatever its decision the matter is bound to reach the Supreme Court, and, under the circumstances, very quickly. While one can never be sure, I for one will be amazed if they take this case. In the end Terri Schiavo will die, as we have every reason to believe she would have wanted to do. But in the climate the Republicans have created I am genuinely afraid as to what will happen to her husband.
A feature last year on Karl Rove--probably the author of the memo no Republican will now acknowledge, that explained to Republican senators and congressmen what a great issue this was--indicated his approach to politics. He is not interested in reaching for the center; he wants to find more and more wedge issues that will mobilize constituencies enthusiastically. In this case polls show the American people do not support what the Republicans are doing. But it may actually be that they will not care--that they prefer the support of an enraged, self-confident, hopelessly intolerant minority to the support of more sensible Americans. That is a very dangerous prospect for the immediate future.