The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Using Terry Schiavo's body as their pulpit

Apr 4, 2005

The bitter and ugly feud that divided Terry Schiavo's mother and father, Robert and Mary Schindler on one side, and her husband, Michael, magnified a personal tragedy. Both sides of the family descended into a fight for control and power over the fate of someone who would never regain consciousness.

Unfortunately such bitter family feuds are only too common. It never would have made the news if it hadn't been for politicians and political operatives who decided to turn Schiavo's tragedy and the horrible family feud into a national spectacle.

Grist for the political and religious mill

First, the most right-wing, religious fundamentalists, such as the Right to Life Committee and Operation Rescue/ Project America, made the Schindlers a recruitment and fund raising vehicle. In return, they provided the Schindlers with a steady stream of financial gifts as well as logistical expertise and high level contacts in Tallahassee and Washington.

Next came Florida Governor Jeb Bush. In October 2003, just as he was preparing to mobilize the base of Christian fundamentalists in his own re-election bid, he jammed "Terry's law" through the state legislature. This law gave him, the governor, the power to intervene in the Schiavo case. And intervene he did.

That tied the case up in the courts for almost a year and a half. When the whole Florida court system reviewed the case, at every level it ordered that the state not intervene in the decision about Schiavo's feeding tube.

Then the national Republican party swung into action. A White House memo that was leaked to ABC News stated, "...the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue." The memo said that Schiavo's case could be used to help defeat their political rivals, the Democrats. This calculation was then seconded by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay who stated, "One thing God has brought us is Terry Schiavo."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is angling to run for president in 2008, tried to use his supposed expertise as a doctor to take center stage. After viewing a videotape of Schiavo, he pretended that as a heart surgeon he knew more about Schiavo's condition than a number of neurologists who had earlier carried out careful examinations and tests – in person.

On March 21 in a special session, Congress passed a special bill pertaining to Schiavo's case only, which Bush rushed back from his ranch to sign into law. And Fox News repeated and repeated and repeated discredited claims made by a TV snake oil "doctor," claiming he could "save" Terry.

Population doesn't take the bait

Most of the population saw through the politicians and recoiled at the spectacle. In a CBS News poll, 82% said Congress and Bush should stay out; 74% said Congress was playing politics with the issue. Those in opposition included even a big chunk of what the Republicans consider their own loyal base – the religious right. According to an ABC News poll, 54% of conservatives said they support removal of the tube, while evangelical Protestants divided about evenly on the issue. Obviously, the idea that politicians would dare intervene in such personal decisions was anathema to most people.

The Republican politicians quickly took stock of their gross miscalculation, and radically toned down their inflammatory rhetoric and posturing. Jeb Bush, who had earlier let it be known that he was ready to use state troopers to forcibly take custody of Terry Schiavo's body, also backed off. And George Bush slinked off back to the ranch.

The Democrats' game

Chances are the Republican politicians will not pay much of a price for this. Neither will their policies, especially their deeply reactionary, supposed "right-to-life" agenda, be set back very much.

As usual, their supposed rivals, the Democrats did not lift a finger to oppose or expose the Republicans and their policies. This can be shown by the way the Democrats voted in Congress. In the Senate, the Democrats approved a measure that allowed a voice vote, without a roll call. This allowed the Democratic Senators to avoid taking any position all together. In the House, only 25 Democrats voted against the bill, while 47 Democrats voted with the Republicans, and 102 conveniently stayed away from the vote, that is, did not go on record with any position.

The most visible Democrat to intervene was Jesse Jackson. It was Jackson, who in the last days, showed up arm-in-arm with all the right-to-lifers, Randall Terry and Operation Rescue, and in solidarity with the position of George and Jeb Bush. Obviously Jackson, a leader of the Democratic Party's supposed progressive wing with ties to both its base in the old civil rights organizations and labor unions, was an unofficial representative of the Democratic Party in its new and energized efforts to slow its own electoral decline by more openly aping the Republican Party's most reactionary and disgusting stances.

Pushing to fasten reactionary ideas

The Terry Schiavo case is one more attempt by almost the entire political establishment, Democrats and Republicans, to push the most reactionary ideas on the population. Despite their rhetoric of "small" government, these hypocrites want to impose the right of government and religious officials to dictate to the population the most personal and sensitive decisions, such as in the matter of Terry Schiavo. Under the guise of their "right-to-life" stance, they dictate to women what to do with their own bodies, forbidding women from making their own choices over birth control or ending pregnancy. At the same time, these same government officials are slashing the funding for social programs, thereby denying the right of poor children to have proper health care and nutrition.

A big majority of the population may oppose and even abhor the antics of these politicians and self-appointed regulators of our "morality." But that can only be a start. That majority will have to find a way to express ourselves politically – and oppose and confront these reactionary ideas. Otherwise, these politicians and other self-appointed leaders will drag this society backward, toward the Salem Witch Trials of the 1600s, during which midwives and nurses were burnt at the stake for daring to care for women in pregnancy or offering primitive means of birth control.

Send all these snake-oil frauds packing!