Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Conservative Rift over Terri Schiavo?

The mainstream media has been basking in the fact that there is a split among Republicans over the Terri Schiavo case. As described by the New York Times, the cleavage is between “social conservatives” on the one hand and “process conservatives” on the other.

The social conservatives are people who give priority to saving Terri Schiavo’s life. The “process conservatives” are people who give priority to traditional conservative views about how government should operate: first, it should stay out of family affairs, and second, the federal government should stay out of matters that state legislatures handle.

The cleavage among Republicans is quite real, but the objective evidence strongly suggests the issue is much more a problem for Democrats. This past Monday, when the House voted on a bill intended to save Schiavo’s life, 97% of Republicans who voted on the bill voted in favor. Among the Democrats voting, only 53% voted against it. The Republicans, in other words, were united and the Democrats badly split.

Equally relevant, perhaps, is the fact that 50% of Democrats failed to vote, while only 31% of Republicans did. It’s not hard to figure out who viewed the issue as a hot potato best evaded.

The mainstream media of course are using the split among Republicans to bash Republican leaders, portraying them as hypocrites who have abandoned their long-standing principles to pander to those benighted religious conservatives. But in reality, Republicans are torn between two quite legitimate principles. As Charles Krauthammer explained in today’s Washington Post:
For Congress and the president to then step in and try to override that by shifting the venue to a federal court was a legal travesty, a flagrant violation of federalism and the separation of powers. The federal judge who refused to reverse the Florida court was certainly true to the law. But the law, while scrupulous, has been merciless, and its conclusion very troubling morally. We ended up having to choose between a legal travesty on the one hand and human tragedy on the other.
If Republicans have allowed their traditional “process” scruples to be eclipsed by their substantive desire for a particular outcome, at least the outcome they want is morally defensible: to prevent an innocent woman from being starved to death.

But what about the liberals?

Many have recently become born again “process conservatives” talking about how government should not intrude in family matters, and how the principle of federalism was trampled on by Congressional Republicans who thrust Congress into the issue.

To say their protestations lack credibility is more than an understatement. Their protestations stink to high heaven. They have long aggressively pushed government into family matters – promoting the right of a teenage girl to have a government funded abortion without her parents even knowing about it, much less giving their consent. They now resist the notion that government may intervene to prevent a man from killing his wife.

Liberals have long crusaded for the Federal government to infringe on the traditional prerogatives of the states. In 1994, for example, they passed the Violence Against Women Act which made domestic abuse, something always a matter of state law, an issue for the Federal government. Then they were willing to use the power of Washington to prevent Michael Schiavo from beating his wife. Now they have scruples about using Federal power to keep him from killing her.

If the liberals are such strong believers in Federalism, they should have no objection to Florida state government trying to rescue Terri. But they scoff at the efforts of Governor Jeb Bush’s administration to help her, and when the Florida legislature passed a bill to save her life, a liberal activist Florida Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional.

So much for the right of states to legislate in matters of family law.

If liberals aren’t motivated by “process” concerns, what substantive values guide their politics? The right to “die with dignity?” Terri wasn’t dying until they removed her feeding tube. To relieve her suffering? If she is really vegetative, as they claim, she can’t be feeling any pain.

The real issue, rather obviously, is the value that society attaches to human life, which of course brings us to abortion. But the issues are substantially different. Forcing a woman to carry a baby to term is most certainly an imposition – justified or not. But Michael Schiavo could have avoided any imposition on his freedom by simply divorcing Terri. Indeed, Terri hasn’t been much of an imposition on his freedom, since he has had two children by his live-in girlfriend while being married to Terri.

What has happened is that the Culture of Death has taken on a momentum all its own. It’s become simply a matter of principle that inconvenient people need to be done away with.

The willingness of Terri’s parents to love and care for a severely brain-damaged daughter is a rebuke to every pregnant woman who thinks that Downs Syndrome is a good reason to have an abortion. Their tireless efforts for her are a rebuke to every pregnant women who gets an abortion because she doesn’t want to change dirty diapers, or get up for 3:00 a.m. feedings. People like Terri’s parents must, of course, be demeaned and scorned and marginalized when they can’t be ignored. Else people might get the idea that human life is indeed a paramount value.

Thus Republican conservatives have at least compromised their principles for a good reason. They don’t like seeing innocent people killed.

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