Schiavo case: when political priorities go awry

Alright. I’ve had it. The insanity has to end.

For reasons passing understanding, I try to follow American politics fairly closely, and between semen-stained dresses and swinging chads, I’ve seen the absurdity barometer in Washington hit “high” more times than I care to count. But “absurd” doesn’t even begin to describe the farce that has consumed our nation’s capital last week thanks to an ill-fated order handed down by one Florida judge.

As nearly everyone in the Western Hemisphere now knows, the judge was Circuit Court Judge George W. Greer, the order was to remove the feeding tube of Terri Schiavo — a woman who has been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years — at the request of her husband, and the farce was what followed when the Schiavo hit the fan … or, more accurately, the spinning propaganda machine that is the so-called “right to life” movement when it gets switched on to full power.

Much has already been written about Schiavo’s “right to life” and her “right to die.” Personally, I think Ms. Schiavo — or Terri, as she is now affectionately known to her many new friends on the right — should be allowed to pass away, assuming, as her husband reports, that that was her wish. But I recognize that this is an incredibly difficult case, with raw emotions on both sides, and the dispute needs to be handled professionally, calmly and with great care.

Which is exactly why it should be left where it belongs — in a court of law, under the jurisdiction of a state judge, whose job it is to arbitrate difficult disputes like this one in accordance with Florida law. The indescribable outrage is not that Schiavo’s parents want to keep her alive — the current controversy has escalated to a level that makes that debate practically irrelevant. By cynically exploiting parental attachment to catapult their pet cause into the national limelight, the right-wing has provided us with a textbook example of what is so horribly wrong with American politics today.

The moment that feeding tube was removed, all hell broke loose. Christian conservatives were suddenly on television sets across the country screeching about how “liberal activist judges” were trying to starve poor Terri to death. For issuing his judicial order, Judge Greer has been savagely attacked as “barbaric” and “wicked” — and has had to take on round-the-clock security because of death threats to himself and his family from, ironically, extreme pro-lifers. Tom Delay, who for some reason is still the House Majority Leader, has called the attorney representing Schiavo’s husband “the personification of evil,” and bombastically fumed that the U.S. Supreme Court will have some “serious questions to answer about its silence and arbitrary interpretation of federalism” for refusing to review the Schiavo case. And the Republican Congress, which can’t seem to solve any of the country’s actual problems, suddenly flew boldly into action, ramming “An Act For the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo” through its hallowed halls at nearly warp speed.

With 70 percent of the public against Congressional intervention, according to a recent ABC poll, Republicans can hardly employ their standard gay-marriage tactic of labeling the judges who have sided against them outside of the mainstream. So why, with every single judge who has heard the case so far (and there have been many), as well as the American people firmly arrayed against them, have the Republicans decided to seize upon this issue?

The answer, of course, is that they’re Republicans. And more to the point, to be fair, they’re American politicians. Which is to say that in an off-election year, they could give a hoot about what the general public thinks, because the general public won’t remember this little episode two years down the road. And of course, they never give a hoot about the Constitution or the judiciary — neither votes for them. The only group they do give a hoot about is their base, which is paying attention, which makes or breaks their political careers, and which has turned Terri Schiavo into a national bellwether for the pro-life cause.

Humans are pretty weird, and politics is even weirder. I am constantly struck, never more so than now, by the fact that the zealots on both sides of the aisle, especially on the right, are constantly searching for those special issues that bitterly divide us. Why do liberal activists and Christian conservatives pour all their energy into gay marriage, abortion and Terri Schiavo, when the reality is there are so many other issues less polarizing, more important and on which it is easier to find common ground? I assure everyone in “Choose Life at Yale,” — which has, based on its vice president’s March 21 letter to the News, come out strongly in favor of Schiavo’s “right to life” — that I too believe in an individual’s right to life. I believe in the right to life of those being slaughtered in Darfur, those being executed in North Korea, those being blown to shreds in Iraq, and those dying here at home every day from cancer and homicide. Couldn’t we let Schiavo alone and focus our national attention on the lives of people we all want to save, and probably could if we tried?



Roger Low is a sophomore in Branford College. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.

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