In near-record time, the Terri Schiavo case has morphed into a national cause célèbre stoked by the almost unlimited self-righteousness and hypocrisy of the Bush Administration.
The family tragedy has been happily picked up by Tom Delay, who's seeking to divert attention from his growing scandal woes. Continuing the political grandstanding, Bush rushed back to Washington to sign the Delay-inspired "legislation" to "save Terri Schiavo" as a sop to the their Christian Right political base. If the polls are any indication, this strategy may backfire.
Bush signed the constitutionally dubious bill to transfer legal responsibility for this case to the Federal courts. Afterwards, the president indicated that, if given the choice, "we should always err on the side of life" when critical issues are faced. Oh, if this were but true. Bush and his neocon and Christian Right base have a long record of behaving just the opposite when the political agenda had a different orientation. The examples abound:
• When governor of Texas, Bush signed a law that gave hospitals the right to discontinue treatment despite family input. Last week, a Texas hospital --- against the mother's wishes --- pulled the plug on a six-month-old infant who was on life support. The mother had no health insurance and had been cut off from prenatal care due to Medicaid cutbacks. Of course, there was no national outcry over that situation.
• Bush never issued a stay of execution for anyone on the Texas death row, and Texas set a record for executions during his term of office as governor. In Illinois, Republican Governor George Ryan suspended all executions when it was determined that at least 15 percent of those on death row were innocent. Ryan believed the judicial system in Illinois was not effective enough to maintain the death penalty. Bush, on the other hand, thought the Texas system was flawless. He admits he never spent more than half an hour on any death penalty petition. This is "erring on the side of life"?
• The National Academy of Sciences estimates that 18,000 people per year die in the United States because they have no health insurance. If someone was trying to "err on the side of life," it must be assumed that they would care about this situation. In Bush's case, there is no such indication.
• The same members of Congress who rushed to Washington to "save Terri" recently put incredible pressure on states by voting to cut $15 billion from Medicaid funding. Inevitably, many people will be put in serious and life-threatening jeopardy.
• Terri Schiavo was originally awarded $750,000 in a medical malpractice lawsuit to cover her care. This award is now exhausted and her care is dependent on Medicaid. The people in Congress now crying crocodile tears for the cameras are the same ones who recently passed legislation limiting lawsuits of this kind to $250,000.
• The same people in Congress and President Bush were the ones to eagerly launch a war in Iraq under the flimsiest of excuses. The grave threat to America has turned out to be bogus. The cost of not "erring on the side of life"? Upwards of 100,000 lives lost and counting.
• Is it really "erring on the side of life" when the actual agenda is so obviously political? And that agenda was captured so well in the surreptitious recording of Tom Delay as he addressed the right-wing Family Research Council. The "save Terri" case was a God-given opportunity, according to Delay in his recorded remarks, to use against those who support the liberal agenda.
• In August 2001, Bush was on his ninth week of vacation since coming into office eight months earlier. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the "system was blinking red" that something serious was up and that al Queda was preparing an attack. Did Bush return to Washington to get on top of the situation because he wanted to "err on the side of life"? Well, no. Such an effort was reserved for the politically expedient "save Terri" project.
The word "hypocrisy" is the only one that seems to fit the blatant inconsistency of the positions taken by Bush and his supporters. But there are other words that also fit, the most prominent among them is "expediency." The neocons view themselves as being principled and driven by a consistent philosophy. But this is not the reality. They support states' rights, except when it works against them politically. Then they override states' rights, with the Terri Schiavo legislation being the latest example. But it's not the only example. Remember Bush vs. Gore in 2000?
When Delay, Bush, et al, started this sad train of events, they were convinced that it would give them a big boost. If they "saved" Terri Schiavo by forcing the feeding tube back in, they win. If her feeding tube is not restored because the legal maneuver fails and she dies, they still win for making the effort. And they would be heroes to the right-wing base while making a martyr of poor Terri. Maybe, at long last, the neocon overreach may have hit its limits. As of this writing, the public does not seem to be buying the act.
A rush to prepare living wills is now underway, as people see this tragic story unfold. This could be the only positive to emerge from the unfortunate situation. But how many of those people would wish to be kept alive at all costs for 15 years? Almost none of them. So why's the country being dragged through this tragedy?