Do not hold your breath

After Congress passed emergency legislation giving Terri Schiavo’s parents, the Schindlers, standing in federal courts, U.S. District Judge James Whittemore of Tampa questioned the constitutionality of that law and rejected the Schindlers’ claim that Terri had been deprived of due process in at least seven years of proceedings in state courts, wherein Florida Circuit Judge George Greer concurred with medical experts that Terri is in a persistent vegetative state. The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld Whittemore’s ruling, and the Schindlers have vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court, which has turned them down before.

    “Congress’ overreaching flies in the face of our entire system of checks and balances, trashes the partial sovereignty of the states and flouts the protections our laws afford state adjudication from drive-by attacks by those disaffected with the results,” says Laurence Tribe, a Harvard University law professor.

Still, there was a fresh move in the Florida Legislature to reinsert the feeding tube:

    “I understand that we only need one vote in the state Senate to save my daughter,” [Terri’s mother] said as she stood outside Schiavo’s hospice. “Please senators, for the love of God, I’m begging you, please, don’t let my daughter die of thirst.”

Mercifully, she didn’t get that vote.

But now Florida Governor Jeb Bush “and the state’s social services agency say they have filed a petition with a Pinellas County trial court seeking to take custody of Mrs Schiavo.” According to the New York Times, they have found an expert, “Dr. William P. Cheshire, a neurologist in Jacksonville, … [who] is the director of a laboratory at the Mayo Clinic branch in Jacksonville that deals with unconscious reflexes like digestion, and a fellow of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, a nonprofit group founded by ‘more than a dozen leading Christian bioethicists,’ in the words of its Web site.” He says, without having conducted an examination, that Terri might indeed be in a minimally conscious state. “Later, state lawyers appeared before Judge George W. Greer of Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, who ordered Ms. Schiavo’s feeding tube removed last week, and asked for the second time in a month to intervene in the case…. Judge Greer did not rule on the state’s request immediately, but he granted a request from Ms. Schiavo’s husband, Michael, to bar the state’s Department of Children and Families from taking custody of her, from removing her from the hospice where she has gone six days without her feeding tube and from providing her with nutrition or hydration.”

Despite a series of polls supporting Michael Schiavo in his battle to let his wife die, a great many very powerful politicians are pulling out all the stops, pandering to the Christian right, figuring they’ll remember, and everyone else will forget.

    “Their gamble is that the general public will be divided on the issue and will not vote on the subject come 2006, but that the Republican-base … group of conservative Christians will remember this vote forever,” says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

But as Joseph Dolman put it in Newsday:

    I think it’s also possible that [Sen. Bill] Frist [of Tennessee] and [Rep. Tom] DeLay [of Texas] have seriously misread their Red State base. For one thing, the pollsters and political scientists I know say the Schiavo case is unusual. Even in the South, voters could ultimately resent the intrusion of zealots into family affairs.

They may have even misread their own party:

    “This is a clash between the social conservatives and the process conservatives, and I would count myself a process conservative,” said David Davenport of the Hoover Institute, a conservative research organization. “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. For Congress to step in really is a violation of federalism.”

States’s rights aren’t the only rights at stake:

    “This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy,” [Representative Christopher] Shays [of Connecticut] said. “There are going to be repercussions from this vote. There are a number of people who feel that the government is getting involved in their personal lives in a way that scares them.”

But an article in the New York Times suggests there is more to this than federalism or a right to die. “Conservatives, already disdainful of the way judges have handled subjects like same-sex marriage and abortion, say the court treatment of the Schiavo case illustrates a judiciary that is willing to ignore the will of the public and elected officials.” There you have it: this as “Richard Viguerie, the strategist behind conservative direct mailings, said, ‘could be the opening shot in the Supreme Court nomination battle that we expect sooner rather than later.'” Speaking of Michael Schiavo, who has battled to have his wife’s feeding tube removed, “‘Just because there is a judge somewhere in the world who would give an estranged husband like that the time of day tells you how bad the court system is,’ the Rev. Jerry Falwell said.

Doug Thompson, publisher and founder of Capitol Hill Blue, weaves it all together, noting the sheer dishonesty which has become so pervasive with Republicans, now in control of the White House and both houses of Congress:

    [President] Bush, who lies every time he opens his big mouth, tries to claim the issue is “about life,” but it isn’t. It’s about political power, greed, corruption and avarice. It’s about seizing any opportunity to advance the repressive causes of Bush and his party of power-mad despots.

That quote is more extreme than great; but it’s in what Thompson calls his rant. Perhaps without meaning to, he points to an imbalance in mainstream media news coverage, which has all too often referred to this whole pathetic episode as if it were about “saving” Terri’s life, and, all too often, failed to adequately challenge the misinformation Bush and Republicans have been putting forth, on this and on so many other issues.

With a lapdog press, there is no particular reason at all for Republicans to bother with truth. The consequence is that we don’t have a government run in any way for the benefit of the country on the basis of empirical evidence. Thompson suggests, we don’t even have one run on the basis of ideology, but one which instead capitalizes on an extreme right wing ideology to sustain power. Thompson calls it treason.

Treason, indeed. It certainly demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice principle for power:

    The Republican Party has long associated itself with limiting the power of the federal government over the states, though this is not the only time that party leaders have veered from that position. Most famously, in 2000, it persuaded the Supreme Court to overturn a Florida court ruling ordering a recount of the vote in the presidential election between Al Gore and George Bush.

Many who voted for George Bush in 2004 said they knew where he stands. Certainly, we know where many in the Republican Party stands now–wherever it takes to maintain power.

Author: benfell

David Benfell holds a Ph.D. in Human Science from Saybrook University. He earned a M.A. in Speech Communication from CSU East Bay in 2009 and has studied at California Institute of Integral Studies. He is an anarchist, a vegetarian ecofeminist, a naturist, and a Taoist.

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