Politics and pathos

Terri Schiavo and her mother

Fools rush in

It would take a particularly cold and heartless person to be unsympathetic to the wrenching case of Terri Schiavo unfolding before us. It would take particularly craven people to exploit Schiavo's case for political gain. Sadly, Washington seems full of the latter.

Congress held extraordinary sessions during their Easter recess to pass a bill granting Schiavo's parents standing to take the case to the Federal courts, and W cut short his vacation in Crawford, Texas, so he could later rise from his bed in the middle of the night to sign the bill. It was positioned as compassionate intervention to "save Terri's life" but it was really pathetic pandering to the Republican base.

It's worth nothing that when, in the summer of 2001, W received advice that Usama bin Laden was planning attacks in the US he continued chopping brush on his ranch, but in the spring of 2005 when W received advice that Congress might pass a bill pleasing to the right-wing religious base he flew back to Washington, ready to take action.

W and friends make a grand show of talking about the "rule of law" and "firm principles" but their actions show that what they're really interested in is accumulating and exercising power to the benefit of themselves and their friends.

• The Republicans advocated moving class-action lawsuits to federal court to prevent cases from being filed in sympathetic jurisdictions. But finding that they didn't like the results of extensive litigation of Schiavo's case in Florida, they passed "Terri's Law" in the expectation that the federal courts would be a more sympathetic jurisdication.

• As President, W says we should cultivate a "culture of life" and always "err on the side of life." As Governor, W presided over a record number of executions without a second thought.

• The Republicans are great believers in "states' rights," except, it turns out, when the states don't make the "right" decision, as in the 2000 presidential election and in the Schiavo case.

• "Activist judges" are a bad thing when their rulings displease the hard-core right wing (as in abortion or gay marriage) but judges who strictly interpret the law as written are a bad thing when they decide against the conservative cause of the day (as in Terri Schiavo).

All of this would be laughable if it weren't heading us down a very dangerous path. It seems that every so often our country flirts with very undemocratic and unlawful behavior. The McCarthy and the Nixon/Watergate eras come to mind from my lifetime. The "9/11 changed everything" era is, I think, equally dangerous. I hope we recover our good sense and pull back as we have before.