by Robert Herold

Just when you thought that the right wing of the Republican regime couldn't stoop any lower on the ladder of cheap propaganda (and there really is no other word for it), they manage to do it -- all without even a hint of shame. Indeed, it's issues like this one that play to their preferred style: piety wrapped in duplicity and served up on a bed of expedience.

In the Terry Schiavo case, a woman who has been declared to be in a vegetative state by several neurologists has nevertheless been on life support for years. Her husband and her doctors want to take her off life support. She wanted this, too, but her parents want to keep her on life support.

The GOP right wing agrees with the parents and seeks to force a preferred result by federalizing the issue. Instead of relying on doctors close to the case and local courts, when necessary, to make this hard decision, our unprincipled majority (supported by 47 Democrats, who no doubt "voted against it before they voted for it") wants the federal courts to step in. The mess that this will create should be enough to doom the legislation, but rarely has expediency yielded to principle or even practicality.

What's at stake here isn't really Terry Schiavo's life at all; what's at stake is the future of the GOP zealot who doubles as a bought-and-paid-for influence monger: Tom DeLay. Ah yes, Tom "The Hammer" DeLay is leading the fight to save Terry's life, a woman whom he had no knowledge of at all, until -- we can hazard a guess -- his beleaguered staff, faced with fending off a Texas grand jury and a likely congressional ethics inquiry, came up with a brilliant idea: Let's change the subject! Now we see, night after night on the news, not the old bug killer Tom, but Tom "I feel your pain" DeLay.

We needn't stop with DeLay's troubles. Diversion is welcome relief for a congressional majority that faces a mountain of major problems it has no real plan to solve.

Item: In case no one noticed, our country's balance of payments is at an all-time high. And then there's the deficit: Remember the good old days when we were talking about "lock boxes"? Add in the rising gas prices, and you might have an economic train wreck. Somebody "in charge" might at least want to start paying attention.

Item: Let's not forget the war in Iraq. No, it hasn't gone quite as planned. And now governors of both parties are complaining about their respective National Guards, or the lack thereof -- especially in the West, just as the fire season is about to begin. Oh yes, and apparently re-enlistments in the senior Guard ranks have fallen off to the tune of 70 percent.

Item: And then there's Social Security reform. Those private accounts? They ain't selling. Seems no one really believes that the system is in crisis. The sell-out to the mutual fund companies, turns out, was just too transparent. Moreover, everyone knows that it's medical costs that are in crisis. Which, ironically, gets right back to the Schiavo case. With the rapid advances in medical technology, it's not too far-out to envision a day when doctors could keep you alive for scores more years than God intended. So does that mean if you have no living will, federal law will actually dictate that these extreme measures be pursued, regardless of the cost to the medical system that is already out of control?

The Republican far right is out and about trying to convince us that no one should read this legislation as anything other than an attempt to deal with a very special case. Hogwash! The line of litigants wanting to invoke it is already forming. And why not? It isn't as if we lack similar issues and cases.

The question should be, who doesn't have a story to tell? Six years ago, my 86-year-old mother, who was suffering from dementia as well as osteoporosis and assorted other ailments so common to the aged, caught a cold, her third in about a month. It was just a cold, but unless treated aggressively, the likelihood was that her cold would become something far worse. One of my two brothers had been given the power of attorney at the time we had moved her to the care center. He determined, after consulting with several doctors as well as my daughter, who had worked for almost 20 years as a geriatric nurse, to do nothing "heroic." No intravenous feeding. Only water, which she could get down with help, of course.

But my other brother thought that to do this was tantamount to euthanasia. That's what he called it. Well, after much consultation, argument and a lot of soul searching, we decided (more by majority vote than agreement) to stick with the original plan. So, we gathered at her bedside, made her as comfortable as we could, and, after 30 or so hours, she passed away after a full, long life.

There was a time when Republicans argued that such life-and-death decisions should be made by those closest family members and doctors. "Keep the government out of my private business!" Didn't that used to be some political party's mantra? If government got involved at all, it should be at the most local level, old-school Republicans would have argued.

It might be a tough call for members of the Republican family to make, but isn't it time for them to decide to do nothing "heroic" to save DeLay's career?

Publication date: 03/24/04

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About The Author

Robert Herold

Robert Herold is a retired professor of public administration and political science at both Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University. Robert Herold's collection of Inlander columns dating back to 1995, Robert's Rules, is available at Auntie's.