Maybe, just maybe, the religious right and its Republican friends have finally gone too far with the Terri Schiavo case. Americans may tell pollsters the earth was created in six days flat and dinosaurs shared the planet with Adam and Eve, but I don’t believe they want Tom DeLay to be their personal physician. I don’t think they want fanatics moaning and praying outside the hospital while they’re making hard decisions. I don’t think they want people getting arrested trying to “feed” their comatose relatives, or issuing death threats against judges and spouses in the name of “life.” I don’t think John Q. Public wants Jeb Bush to adopt his wife or Newt Gingrich to call her by her first name or Senator Frist to diagnose her by video, or Jesse Jackson to pop in at the last minute for a prayer and a photo-op.
The Terri Schiavo freak show is so deeply crazy, so unhinged, such a brew of religiosity and hypocrisy and tabloid sensationalism, just maybe it is clueing people in to where the right’s moral triumphalism is leading us. Before Congress jumped into the act, Republicans may have seen a great opportunity to paint the Democrats as the “party of death.” No thanks to the Dems, who mostly cowered, the stratagem backfired: The weekend after Schiavo’s feeding tube was withdrawn, 75 percent of Americans told CBS pollsters they wanted government to stay out of end-of-life issues, and 82 percent thought Congress and the President should have kept away. Jesse Jackson seems not to have gotten the memo–he’s calling for the Florida legislature to overturn thirty years of carefully crafted medical ethics and pass a previously rejected bill requiring patients in a persistent vegetative state to remain on life support forever, unless they’ve left a written directive to the contrary. If that’s the “religious left,” forget it.
It’s about time Americans woke up. The Schiavo case only looks unprecedented: For decades, women seeking to terminate pregnancies have faced gantlets of screamers, invasions of privacy, violence in the name of “saving babies,” charges of murder and of evil motives, politically motivated legal obstacles, spurious medical “expertise” (abortion causes breast cancer; Terri Schiavo just needs therapy). There is the same free-floating vitriol: Abortion is the “Silent Holocaust,” while, according to Peggy Noonan, those who support Ms. Schiavo’s right to die are on “a low road that twists past Columbine and leads toward Auschwitz” (that would be the same road that Tom DeLay and his family went down when they withheld life support from his critically injured father–the same road, in fact, that Robert Schindler, Terri’s father, took when he turned off his mother’s life support). Randall Terry, the Operation Rescue showman who wants to make America a “Christian nation” and to “execute” doctors who perform abortions, is the Schindlers’ chief strategist; other Operation Rescuers in the hospice parking lot include the Rev. Pat Mahoney, who freely gives out Michael Schiavo’s home address; Cheryl Sullenger, who served two years for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic in 1987; and Scott Heldreth, a convicted sex offender who told an AP reporter that driving long hours to the hospice and getting arrested was all his 10-year-old son’s idea.