Friday, April 01, 2005


By Jonathan Alter
April 4 issue

When he was governor of Texas, George W. Bush presided over 152 executions, more than took place in the rest of the country combined. In at least a few of these cases, reasonable doubts about the guilt of the condemned were raised. But Bush cut his personal review time for each case from a half hour to a mere 15 minutes (most other governors spend many hours reviewing each capital case to assure themselves that there's no doubt of guilt). His explanation was that he trusted the courts to sort through the life-and-death complexities. That's right: the courts.

I bring up that story because it's just one of several ironies that have arisen in connection with the Terri Schiavo saga, in which the president said that the government "ought to err on the side of life." Fine, but whose life? The inmate who might not be guilty? The poor people across the country denied organ transplants (and thus life) because Medicaid—increasingly under the Bush budget knife—won't cover them? The poor people across the world starving to death because we won't go along with Tony Blair when it comes to addressing global poverty?

Or how about Sun Hudson? On March 14, Sun, a 6-month-old baby with a fatal form of dwarfism, was allowed to die in a Texas hospital over his mother Wanda's objections. Under a 1999 law signed by Bush, who was then governor, cost-conscious hospitals are empowered to decide when care is "futile." The Hudson case is the first time ever that a court has allowed bean counters to override the wishes of parents. "They gave up in six months," Wanda Hudson told the Houston Chronicle. "They made a terrible mistake." Wanda apparently was not "cable ready," as they say in the television world, and she failed to get Randall Terry and the radical anti-abortionists on her side. Tom DeLay never called.

Could there be—perish the thought—politics at work here? Knowing that they cannot deliver on a gay-rights amendment or abortion ban, Karl Rove & Co. settled on bonding to the base with the Schiavo case. The beauty part, as Ross Perot used to say, was that they could be cynical and sincere at the same time, even if it meant twisting themselves into ideological pretzels. The same conservatives who have spent the last generation attacking "judicial activism" and federal intrusion in state jurisdictions were suddenly advocating what they had so long abhorred.

They argue they had a moral duty to intervene. If Terri had been on a respirator, like Sun Hudson, there would have been no issue, they claim. But a feeding tube is different. Says who? Says the pope, for one. Of course the pope also says that the war in Iraq is wrong, the death penalty is wrong and the West has been too stingy in sharing its wealth. So never mind the pope.

In a complex world, consistency is usually asking too much. (Seeing Democrats talk about "states' rights" last week was also a little rich.) But if you're going to accuse Michael Schiavo and the judiciary of murder (right-wing blogs and talk radio) or commit virtual malpractice by "examining" a patient long distance via outdated and heavily edited video (Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist) or advocate breaking the law by sending in state troopers to reattach the feeding tube (Pat Buchanan and William Bennett), you'd better be willing to look in the mirror.

As a father myself, I can sympathize with Terri's frenzied parents. There must be nothing harder in the world than watching a child die. And I still don't understand why Michael Schiavo didn't turn over custody and get a divorce. He says he's trying to carry out his wife's wishes and at the same time preserve her dignity. But the endless litigation and public spectacle have hardly achieved that goal.

The right wing should be ashamed of the way it has treated this man, who spent the first seven years after Terri's collapse doing everything imaginable to save her—even training as a nurse. For instance, Fox and CNN gave air time and credibility to one Carla Iyer, who accused Michael of shouting "When is the bitch going to die?" and claimed hospital authorities doctored her nursing charts—preposterous charges with no substantiation.

When this excruciating circus leaves town, the only sensible conclusion is a morally and constitutionally nuanced one. It should be possible to argue both that Terri Schiavo's case didn't belong in court—and that the courts are the only place to resolve such wrenching disputes when families cannot. That custody laws should contain a little more flexibility where the wishes of the patient are unclear—and that the president and Congress did real damage to their own principles by sticking their nose in this mess. They replaced reason with emotion, confused law with theology and allowed politics and tabloidism to trump the privacy this agonizing family tragedy deserved.


Blogger Snave said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:28 AM  
Blogger Snave said...

Yes, if there's a God, may it bless the Pope. While I am not in great favor of religion, I think the Pope is an honest, peaceful man who has genuine concern for the entire world. Wouldn't it be wonderful for our country if our president was as honest, peaceful and concerned about the whole world as the Pope is?

12:30 AM  
Blogger Unadulterated Underdog said...

Thank you for visiting my site! Feel free to visit whenever!
I think our Governor is a good enough sort, very middle-of-the-road and all. I don't know if he would be the guy for president. He would make a good one, since he isn't all that ambitious of a politician, but I don't think it will ever happen. I agree we need a middle-of-the-road candidate. I don't think he has to be from a red state but maybe a swing state like Missouri or something. Cheers!

6:45 AM  
Blogger J. Marquis said...

Great article. It's very important to shine a light on how hypocritical Bush has been on the "life" subject.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

I think the Republicans blew it with their Schiavo campaign (according to the polls); at least I hope so. This was one of the most shameless PR stunts in our history, and it serves them right to have it blow up in their faces.

12:33 AM  
Blogger Kayaboy said...

Snave, I don't want to totaly disrespectful to the pope, but Pope John Paul II isn't without his own contriversies. Granted he was progressive on inter-religious communication. However, on issues such as birth control and homosexuality, he was pretty darn conservative. Being gay myself, I found him to be very offensive. Anyways, do you also post on david corn's blog?

4:29 AM  
Blogger Snave said...

K, your points are well taken. Part of what saddens me about the Pope very likely stems from my wife having spent most of her life as a Catholic.

Thanks for commenting! I hope you will be back.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Lizzy said...

I'd have to agree with the kayaboy, and everyone else, on this one. While the Pope may have been a great man to millions, his position on birth control and homosexuality did much more harm than good. However, even though I am not pro-life, (anti-choice) I did appreciate his position on war and the death penalty.

8:34 AM  
Blogger sleepybomb said...

while being raised a devout sicilian catholic, and then disavowing all the vernactular many years ago, i feel the pope is just a figurehead. kinda like the queen, (or king) of england. altho i respect him as a man, (not the thing as the faithful do, a god-like creature), i am not saddened too much, it was just his time. he did it like a trooper!
as far as georgie is concerned, i hope him and his ilk are gonna burn for this two-faced pandering. the stuff you quote is all too true. they are pushing the neo-con right-wing religious agenda down a little bit too many throats. (too many gays on t.v.? what the hell is going on now? spare me your god!)
i got a seat in front the telly, litenin to sandinista with a bottle and a bowl in hand waiting for the stuff to hit the fan.
(or not . . . i am so over this i am really numb)

8:37 PM  
Blogger Unadulterated Underdog said...

Thank you Snave for visiting my site. I know how you feel about the Pope. John Paul was an amazing man. I didn't always agree with him but I always admired that he didn't change his religious views based on his political agenda the way many Republicans and religious leaders in America do. He will always have a place in my heart and the hearts of all who are decent and care for the rights of humanity. Cheers!

10:18 PM  
Blogger Sheryl said...

I was not fond of the pope at all. Let me be lazy and just paste what I wrote in Ryan Boyd's blog:

" I think you are being extremely generous, Ryan. If you compare the poverty rates of areas with uncontrolled populations to ones with proper family planning, then you know that the pope condemned a heck of a lot of children to destitution. When people are born into poverty, they are easy victims to the downsides of capitalism, so whether the pope thought he opposed capitalism or not, he supported it via his positions on family planning.

Furthermore, a child with one or no siblings has more resources to tap from than one who has to share with 15+ siblings.

Iraq would not have happened if that country had not had a limited resource relative to the world's demand for oil. Demand is relative to the number of people requiring a resource, so the more people the more the demand. So in my opinion the pope also helped contribute to the conditions for our attack on Iraq. In the same way that people who refuse to recycle do and those who drive SUVs do, etc.

Another thought... This pope was dealing with different political and religious conditions from his predecessors. So to say that he was more progressive is not saying much.

For example, if Bush came out and said he was anti-slavery, I wouldn't consider him a humanitarian for it. But go back to the days before the Civil War, it would have taken a very courageous leader to take such a position. I think the Pope could have done a heck of a lot more than he did. Maybe he took some good positions, but he had the conditions where he could have gotten by with taking stronger positions.

I admit I am not a catholic, a christian, or even a deist, but I have never once considered the pope a role model for ethical behavior, which is what he should have been."

And maybe that is strong considering he just died, but I really think he was in a position where he could have stood for something beautiful, but I think he mostly wasted that power.

12:34 AM  

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