Sunday, March 20, 2005

THE LATEST ON TERRI SCHIAVO is that Republicans in the House of Representatives are delaying discussion on the "compromise" bill (which would mandate re-insertion of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube until a federal judge reviews her case) because they know that some Democrats are objecting to this whole circus. The New York Times article says that this delay is "setting the stage for a vote just after midnight," which I don't get: if the Republicans don't want to bring up the bill today because of Democratic opposition, how is a vote after midnight going to succeed?

There are so many aspects of this story that cry out for comment. It's painful to read about Mary Schindler, Terri Schiavo's mother, asking congressional leaders not to use this case for their own personal political purposes -- referring not to the Republicans who want the federal government to intervene on the side of keeping Terri Schiavo alive, but to the relatively few Democrats who want this to remain a private family matter.

"There are some congressmen that are trying to stop this bill," Ms. Schiavo's mother, Mary Schindler, told reporters outside her daughter's hospice. "Please don't use my daughter's suffering for your own personal agenda."

It seems clear to me that it's people like Jeb and Pres. Bush, Mel Martinez, and Tom DeLay, who are using Terri Schiavo's tragedy for their own personal agenda, but of course Mary Schindler doesn't want to lose her daughter, so she doesn't see it that way. It's personally painful to me -- having lost a child myself -- to see Mary Schindler's anguish being exploited and manipulated this way. I certainly can't and could never fault her for grasping at any avenue to avoid having to let go of her daughter or admit to herself that there's no hope for recovery. What parent could do that?

And then there is the issue -- the central issue, in my view -- of the extraordinary political cynicism the Republican leadership is demonstrating. There is nothing more central or fundamental to Republican philosophy than the concept of states' rights. Conservative Republicans are constantly preaching the religion of federalism, the uniquely American system of government in which sovereignty is divided between the central government and the 50 states. The idea behind federalism is that if states retain sovereignty in matters not reserved by the Constitution to the federal government, then it will not be possible for dictatorship to take hold. This is obviously also the philosophical underpinning of the American system of checks and balances between the three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial.

Yet, when it suits their purposes, conservative Republicans are more than willing to violate the principle of federalism. And nothing could be more antithetical to the principle of federalism, and to separation of powers, than what Republicans in Congress are doing now in the matter of Terri Schiavo. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) put it well when he pointed out that 19 Florida judges had been adjudicating this case for 7 years; and that it is unconscionable for the federal government to step in now, and attempt to use the legislative process to undermine and overrule the authority of the state of Florida and judicial authority in a situation that has nothing to do with any public policy or public safety issue, but is entirely a private family matter.

But, as I said, federalism and states' rights are easily ignored by their most passionate defenders when there is a chance to score big points with the Republican Party's Christian conservative base. Scott McClellan, Pres. Bush's spokesperson, denied that politics was involved, but the Times article noted that Republicans in the Senate had been given "talking points" for discussing this issue with the press; and that "party aides" had declared Terri Schiavo was a " 'great political issue' that resonates with Christian conservatives."

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