Follow-up: The Politics of Schiavo and the Hypocrisy of our government
Let's be clear: I am not gladdened by what's happening to Terri Schiavo. Who could be? It's a tragic scene and a drawn-out (if probably not painful) death. Others have argued enough about the merits of the case. I'm not a doctor and have never met any of the people involved. I would not say with certainty that what is happening now is right or wrong, although I do have my own opinion. More interesting to me is how the emotion of the case overshadows clear political understanding particularly in our elected officials and how the role of government versus the citizenry has been reversed in terms of allowing passion to control decisions. One of the benefits of representative government is that the legislature should be less subject to emotion and passion, should be more deliberate and deliberative than the people. The legislature should more than the average citizen be aware and respectful of the Constitution, Separation of Powers, Federalism, and the Rule of Law. This has not happened in the Schiavo case because of crass political opportunism by the Republicans and fear of political reprisal among Democrats, both of which are incorrect presumptions. This combination has caused the party that normally fights for states' rights and against judicial activism to reverse its principled position and caused the other party to become a spectator. In terms of constitutional principle and Machiavellian political advantage, I've thought the Republicans were wrong all along in this case. Not only is there clearly no Federal authority in this situation, but a CBS News poll shows that 82% of people surveyed (including 72% of Republicans) think that Congress and the President should not be involved. 74% of those surveyed think that Congressional involvement is based on hoping for political gain rather than concern for Terri Schiavo. I completely agree. It's the occasional event like this which increases the already high level of cynicism many of us have about our elected officials. I think the political effect of all this will be neutral to slightly negative for Republicans overall. They have massively miscalculated but would be wrong on principle even if they had done the hard-ball political calculus correctly. There is good news, however: The judiciary functioned properly as a barrier between passions and the rule of law. Every step of the way the judiciary has supported what the law says without regard to politics or the media. This is something for which we should all be thankful, no matter how much we might wish that Terri Schiavo could live. It's simply not about any one case and it must never be. The Republicans always look for judges who will be "originalists" or "strict constructionists", who believe that the Constitution says what it says and means what it says and that it is not a "living document" whose meaning changes with political or social context. I firmly agree. So it's pathetic and distressing to see them arguing just the opposite in a case that happens to fit with their religious or political aspirations and let the Constitution be damned. Most of our politicians are bad enough when they act on their often-confused principles. They're intolerable when they can't even stick to those. What good is a Republican who tramples states' rights and seeks an activist judiciary? What good is a Democrat who stands by and watches without comment something that is clearly wrong? Other than the courageous Republicans in the Florida legislature, they should all be ashamed of themselves.
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