Thursday, June 15, 2006

Terri Schiavo, Part 3

Another important Schiavo column on what really went down.

QandO (see column for links)
Michael Schiavo’s Evolution into a Republican Kos Kid: Harbinger for Libertarians?

"They [the “Save Terri!” movement] asserted that Schiavo's coma may have been caused by abuse from her husband, Michael. With their cries of "medical terrorism" and their comparisons to Nazi Germany, these so-called champions of life created an atmosphere in which some of their supporters made death threats not only to Michael Schiavo but to judges and legislators who had been on the "wrong" side of the dispute.

-Cathy Young

We libertarians are frequently caricatured as “Republicans who just want to smoke dope and have orgiastic sex.” Actually, we hold fealty to many serious general principles, including: the rule of law, basic human rights, federalism, and, yes, the individual adult’s liberty interest in making all manner of personal decisions sans interference from the state; we are also usually skeptical of moralistic social crusades. Many of us, historically, have concluded that our principles and attitudes are best, if imperfectly, upheld by the GOP. Political conditions, however, have changed, and today’s GOP violates libertarian values with promiscuous abandon (but this post focuses on only one of myriad examples of such abandonment). Most intriguingly, we are receiving what could be taken as an invitation from soi disant “libertarian Democrat” Markos Moulitsas that has excited some discussion in our ranks.

Well, I am one libertarian who is cautiously receptive to the Donkey Team’s lure. The canary in the GOP coal mine for me was Michael Schiavo and the (predominantly) GOP grotesqueries imposed on him, his family and his friends during the jihad to “save” his former wife, Terri Schiavo. Not surprisingly, life-long Republican Michael himself seems to agree that the contemporary GOP has become malignant, and he has been both posting a diary at Daily Kos , and last week attended the YearlyKos Convention. What libertarian could blame him? (And please don’t suggest that he could make recourse to the Libertarian Party; Michael is obviously interested in a political force potent enough to evict the current, populist GOP extremists from some branches of the federal government, as am I.)

Let us recall how the Bush/Frist GOP utterly savaged Michael, gleefully joined by its handmaidens at Fox news, the latter of which virtually drove the hysteria , with no little bit of assistance from some pro-Bush blogs. Armed with absurd conspiracy theories, pure lies and faux experts, as well as outrageous and repugnant accusations (“Sean Hannity accused Schiavo of abusing and possibly killing his wife while broadcasting Hannity & Colmes from outside Terri Schiavo's Hospice”), the GOP and its media minions turned a family tragedy that was being competently and properly adjudicated in the Florida Courts by a Republican probate judge, into a fevered national circus.

Most of the Bush-worshipping denizens of the leading conservative journal, National Review, were on board with "saving Terri." But there was one dissenter in the NR stable, and that is John Derbyshire, whose acid review of NR senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru’s execrable book, Party of Death, is as scathing as it is accurate. (Do read the whole thing, and note it was not published at NR.) (h/t David Weigel at Hit ‘n Run) Writes Derb:

... the grotesque carnival surrounding the death of Terri Schiavo last year, when a motley menagerie of quack doctors, bogus “Nobel Prize nominees,” emoting relatives, get-a-life monomaniacs, keening mobs of religious fanatics, death-threat-hissing warriors for “life,” dimwitted TV presenters straining to keep their very best my-puppy-just-died faces on while speaking of “Terri” as if they had known her personally from grade school, pandering politicians, and shyster lawyers all joined forces in a massive effort to convince the American public that [Right to Life] was a thing no sane citizen ought to touch with a barge pole while wearing triple-ply rubber gloves.

Does Ponnuru denounce his co-ideologues’ deranged atmosphere that generated hatred and death threats against Michael Schiavo? Derb again (emphasis in original):

In fact, Ponnuru has nothing to say at all about the monstrous character assassination, carried out by utterly unscrupulous RTL propagandists, of a decent man [Michael Schiavo] who coped humanely and well with a terrible life calamity. Well, not quite nothing: “It cannot be denied that pro-lifers were guilty of some excesses,” Ponnuru murmurs. Some excesses? I would say. Here the author sounds like nothing so much as a Soviet Communist Party apparatchik, circa 1960, offering a grudging admission that Stalin and his cronies might, just once or twice, have been a tad over-zealous in dealing with class enemies…I came away more convinced than ever that Michael Schiavo is a good man criminally traduced by brutal, unprincipled RTL fanatics, from whose number, on the evidence of this chapter, Ponnuru cannot with certainty be excluded.

About the medical charlatanry peddled by the GOP regarding Terri Schiavo’s status, another life-long Republican — physician Elizabeth Whelan, president and founder of the American Council on Science and Health — had this to say at TCS:

While the family video [of Terri] repeatedly shown on television suggests otherwise, her non-functioning cortex precludes cognition, including any ability to interact or communicate with people or show any signs of awareness. Dozens of experts over the years who have examined Ms. Schiavo agree that there is no hope of her recovering — even though her body, face and eyes (if she is given food and hydration) might continue to move for decades to come.

Those are the harsh facts.

Thus it was shocking that Sen. Bill Frist — a heart surgeon before becoming Senate majority leader — went to the Senate floor twice last week to argue that Florida doctors had erred in saying that Terri is in a "persistent vegetative state." How did Frist arrive at this diagnosis? From watching the family videotapes.

Frist's comments were picked up by journalists, including FoxNews's Fred Barnes, who cited Sen. Frist as an authority in a debate with Morton Kondracke on The Beltway Boys last week.

The GOP-led federal madness that ensued in the wake of Frist and Fox’s reprehensible antics is well-described by Reason’s Ron Bailey:

After making their video diagnoses, our legislators got busy. After all, a leaked memo from a Republican staffer had also diagnosed Schiavo's plight as "a great political issue" that would help the GOP rally conservative Christians for the 2006 election. In March, three Senators during an extraordinary Palm Sunday session passed "emergency" legislation to throw the Schiavo case into the federal courts by a "unanimous" vote. The members of the House of Representatives rushed back from their Easter holiday to vote 203 to 58 for the bill. Those voting in favor included 156 Republicans and 47 Democrats. And President George W. Bush melodramatically flew back from his Texas ranch to sign the legislation. All for naught, because the federal courts all quickly ruled in favor of Michael Schiavo.

And, just as life-long Republican Dr. Whelan deplored the medical codswallop of the Bush/Frist GOP spewed forth during l’affaire Schiavo, arch-conservative, pro-life, Republican Constitutional Law scholar Douglas Kmiec rejected the GOP’s attack on both the rule of law and federalism as “a constitiutional abomination”:

... Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University and prominent conservative, called it a "constitutional abomination," because, he said, Congress had overstepped its authority.

The Constitution grants to Congress only certain powers, leaving the rest to the states. Kmiec said nothing in the Constitution gave Congress the power to pass the law, which, he said, sets a troubling precedent that Congress can simply order a federal judge to direct a person's fate.

"What Congress has said is, 'We can take that away from you. We can make the decision not yours, but that of a federal judge,'" Kmiec said. "That is a profound thing to say, and not just for the Schiavo case."

Michael certainly will find no GOP restraint from the "federalist lawyers" at Powerline, which declared:

Disgusting... That's the only word to describe the conduct of Michael Schiavo and his crusade to end the life of his wife Terri.

Nor would he encounter anything but shrill, hyperbolic contempt from pro-Bush blogger LaShawn Barber, who, in a post titled Death Culturists Say Michael Schiavo ‘Vindicated’ wrote:

Look at the thing itself, to paraphrase a fictional man-eater paraphrasing Marcus Aurelius. What is it in itself? What is its nature, this culture of death?

It is dark, dank, and putrid. And hungry....

And in another post, instead of denouncing death threats directed at Michael, and the climate that produced them, Barber more than hinted that he deserved them and excuses the “emotions” that drive some to such lawless and vicious behavior:

A man has been arrested for making threats against Michael Schiavo via the Internet. In that case, he shouldn’t be the only one. How many people have said or written such things about Schiavo in the past week out of emotion? Should they all be arrested?”

(In fairness, it must be noted that a comparative handful of pro-Bush bloggers were disgusted by the Schiavo mania and the slander of Michael Schiavo, as reflected by these collected quotes and links at The Politburo Diktat. And, pro-Bush blogger Jeff Goldstein, with whom I disagree about a great deal, wrote: “…an autopsy could very well prove that Michael Schiavo abused his wife—or, more likely, such a procedure will clear Michael Schiavo of some of the more pernicious pieces of conjecture I’ve heard floated during the ongoing coverage of this case.” )

But, it was it was a left-of-center blogger, Matt Stoller, who interviewed the Republican Michael Schiavo at Stoller’s MyDD blog, and from that interview I leave newly minted Kos Kid, Michael Schiavo, with both a challenge to Republicans (which might also apply to libertarians), and the last word:

Interfering with families' rights to make private, personal decisions shouldn't be any politician's platform.

There are many good Republicans - where I work, in my family and all over the place. And many of them were sickened by what they saw their party doing to the rights of individuals and families. But the people leading the Republican party in Washington D.C. and in Florida today aren't like the Republicans I know.

The leaders of that Republican party are, in my opinion, out of touch, mean spirited and very selfish. To do what they did just so they can win re-election is the lowest kind of politics. And it cost them the support of at least this Republican.

I have gotten hundreds of letters and emails from other Republicans who agree with me and many of them have joined me in leaving the party.

My message to moderate Republicans is: Pay attention. Learn what these people are doing in your name and with your votes.

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