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March 30, 2005

Bait and switch

Posted by Phil on March 30, 2005 10:09 AM

In this week's New York Observer, Joe Conason puts in context the contradictory obsessions of the Republican Party.

They say that the Schiavo dispute represents a struggle between the "culture of life" and the "culture of death." [...] Peggy Noonan denounces the "pull-the-plug people...half in love with death, red-fanged and ravenous," whom she identifies as Democrats. [...] On the righteous side of life, according to Ms. Noonan, is anyone who believes in God and who therefore realizes that "each human life is precious, of infinite value, worthy of great respect."

That is a lovely sentiment, of course. But how do conservatives in power express their respect for the infinite value of each human life? They wage unnecessary war with "shock and awe." They cut Medicaid benefits for the poorest of the poor, including children. They cut food stamps for the hungry. They oppose every effort to ensure universal health care, which would seem to be the best means to protect every precious life.


They constantly claim that the most important cost in medicine today is the prevalence of tort lawsuits against doctors and hospitals. The costs of Ms. Schiavo's hospitalization and care have been subsidized for well over a decade by the proceeds of her husband's successful suit against the doctors who failed to diagnose her bulimia (which stopped her heart and destroyed most of her brain).


In this demagogic moment, conservatism pretends to moral seriousness without confronting the real problems of life, death and financial constraint raised by the Schiavo case. The President and the Congress passed the decision back to the courts so that they could blame the judiciary. The right-wing ideologues tell us that we must protect every life, while demanding that we lower taxes, cut medical programs and deny care to the poor.

I have to say, though, that these conservative imperatives are not so much contradictory as complementary. Republicans offer moral pieties and crocodile tears in order to win elections and bend the nation to their avarice. It may be false advertising, but it has, up to now, been working for them. It's therefore encouraging that polls indicate a strong majority didn't buy and didn't like the posturing and Constitution-rigging that went on last week.

Regarding the Schiavo case, because I've been angry about Peggy Noonan's craven accusation since I read it last week, I want to say again that I think Michael Schiavo should have left his wife's fate to her parents. His determination to see it through appears to be motivated solely by his commitment to what he believes were his wife's wishes, but his "victory" (and I certainly don't believe he would call it that) will be a pyrrhic one. However, I believe in the medical appropriateness of his decision and in his legal right to make it, and I believe the judges supporting his decision are right and the politicians seeking to seize control of Terri Schiavo, even in her parents' name, are wrong. My opinion isn't black or white, let alone "red-fanged and ravenous," nor am I "half in love with death," Peggy Noonan, you twisted harpy.

None of us, of course--from me to Peggy Noonan to President Bush--has a right to have our opinion considered in the matter between the Schiavo and Schindler families. Ironies, not to say hypocrisies, abound on all sides of this perfect storm, but two things have struck me since it was upgraded to a hurricane.

First, where was President Bush's willingness to sleep in his boots and leap to the firepole of executive responsibility in December, when it took him three days to even speak into a microphone about the tsunami, let alone return to the White House?

Second, how do these personally unrelated yet tirelessly obsessed citizens and spokespersons, whose passionate concern for any and all life requires that they actively demonstrate to preserve even a woman whose brain is physically gone, maintain any shred of their sanity when they consider the tens of thousands of Americans and Iraqis who were fully aware and functioning when their lives were ended under circumstances far more questionable and painful than Terri Schiavo's?

The contrast between their agony over an irrecoverably unconscious woman's peaceful demise and what I assume is their disinterest in those thousands of violent deaths--since I am unaware of any "culture of life" adherents using this opportunity to also demonstrate against the war or the administration--is as inexplicable to me as my position apparently is to Peggy Noonan and the rest of the hysterical right.

Which is fine, as long as they don't suspend the Constitution to force the triumph of their madness over mine. Justice is supposed to be blind, but the party in power would prefer to lower her blindfold to cover her shameful breasts, so self-righteously certain are they that her vision would favor them.