With today's Eleventh Circuit Court decision Terri Shiavo's desired death with dignity -- or whatever shreds of her dignity the Republicans and media jackals haven't stripped away -- grows closer. But the public debate over who should control our bodies, our family relationships, our private lives, and our individual consciences is bound to continue and grow even more intense in the coming years.
Already, we know Republican talking points see the Schiavo case as "a great political issue" to be used for pandering to lunatic extremists in next year's congressional races. Quite apart from that tragedy, there are other developments on the legal horizon that promise to throw fuel on the flames of the cultural war.
- About the same time that '06 campaign begins in earnest, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the Bush Administration's effort to obliterate Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law in Gonzalez vs. Ashcroft, which will surely keep Terri Schiavo's memory alive for some time to come.
- If, as some expect, the Supreme Court authorizes public display of the Ten Commandments along with other historical icons in Van Orden v. Perry, you can expect gangs of evangelical crusaders to be combing your neighborhood looking for statutes, historical markers, tourist trails, and other public places to Christianize.
- In at least 19 states, as Peter Slevin pointed out recently "Christian activists" are pressuring educators and legislators to erase the "science of evolution" from the world.
- Wingnut warchests already are being filled to put anti-gay marriage issues on numerous state ballots across the country such as Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, etc. etc.
- Cancer-wracked, terminally ill godless pot users can expect to be targeted by right-wing scolds and Samuel Parris-type evangelical terrorists in the wake of the Supreme Court's widely anticipated ruling in the pending case of Raich v. Ashcroft aka Gonzalez.
- Opposition to stem cell research is is gaining volume if not strength, in many states.
But the modern day Republican Party no longer is home to classic, principled conservatives. There are almost none left in the party. Cerainly, none like former liberal Republican giants like Robert LaFollette, Ralph Bunche, Earl Warren, Wendell Willkie, or Edward Brooke, to name just a few. As the tongue-in-cheek article Red Talk, Blue Talk, and Vice Versa says:
"Liberal Republican" has become an oxymoron and is politically incorrect except when used for historical authenticity, as in, 'Lowell Weicker was a Liberal Republican, and you saw what happened to him.' Supporters of President Bush who are not Evangelical Christians, Conservative Republicans or just independent-minded Heartlanders should be referred to as 'moderate Republicans,' as in, 'Evangelical Christians don't really trust moderates such as Arnold Schwarzenegger or Rudy Giuliani but they don't loathe them as they do Liberals."The real divide shaping up between the major political parties today is between truth-tellers and liars. If, that is, the Democrats can find a spine. At least, that is the message U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla) seemed to be conveying to Jim Defede of the Miami Herald (free on-line subscription) last week.
"During three hours of debate late Sunday night, the freshman Democrat distinguished herself by repeatedly challenging those who tried to misstate the facts surrounding Schiavo's health.The task before liberals, Democrat or otherwise, is to find ways to convince the electorate to spot lies and reject the liars.
When Republicans demagogued the issue by making reckless claims -- attacking the Florida judge who ordered Schiavo's feeding tube removed, disparaging the Florida Supreme Court, mocking Schiavo's husband -- it was Wasserman Schultz who steered the conversation back to reality, reading passages from court documents and independent reports to set the record straight.
And she effectively put a human face on the subject by talking in very personal terms about how her own family recently wrestled with end-of-life issues.
Nevertheless, more than 12 hours later, the South Florida Democrat was still amazed. 'They don't care; they just lie,' she said. 'That's what is the most shocking about this. In the Florida Legislature, they would twist the facts or use certain facts to their advantage; here [in Washington] they just have no qualms about lying, about making it up.'
That may not be as easy as it sounds. As a people, social science researcher Paul Eckman suggests, the evidence is "that most people do poorly in catching lies... ." One reason Eckman gives that I find convincing is, "we generally prefer not to catch liars, because a trusting rather than a suspicious stance enriches life, despite the possible costs." Another is that "we often want to be misled, we collude in the lie unwittingly because we have a stake in not knowing the truth."
As it happens, the Schiavo Relief Bill may be the exception that proves this rule. Despite the non-stop, crocodile tear-jerking by Tom Delay on Fox TV and other compliant media looking for cheap production values, polls show the public overwhelmingly rejects the Schiavo Relief Bill and similar political interferences threatened by the evangelical Right. In this issue -- how each of us wishes to die -- everyone does, indeed, "have a stake" in the truth.
Over the coming months and years, the bigger task for truth-tellers, Democrat or Republican, is to find ways of convincing the electorate that they also have a stake in the other battles of the cultural war being waged by religious extremists. According to some polls, more than 80% of us disagree with the Schiavo Relief Bill because we fervently want the freedom we now have to die as we wish. Liberals need to convince the public it's equally vital to retain the freedoms we have to live as we wish.