Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Terry Schiavo, yes, again...

It seems to me that the religious right - the dog-wagging tail of the so-called "conservative" movement - made a terrible mistake flogging poor Terry Schiavo's case, because they ended up squandering their credibility and losing the moral high ground, mainly by behaving incredibly badly. The latest result of that overreaching was that the Supreme Court's decision on the Oregon assisted suicide law will not, I think, spark much in the way of outrage or even interest. I predict that, because the Terry Schiavo spectacle so horrified and disgusted so many people, the Court's decision will be widely viewed as a necessary corrective to the increasingly desperate attempts by religious conservatives to meddle in what have been, and should remain, people's private decisions.

In the Schiavo case, a lot of very high-profile political conservatives betrayed their political principals (does anybody remember the "get government off our backs" slogan?) and, in attempting to make mandatory the religious beliefs of their power base, demonstrated a truly apalling willingness to flout the law to get what they want. It wouldn't have been so bad, politically speaking, if what they wanted had been what most people wanted, but it was in fact the opposite of what most people wanted. As it was, the legal shenanigans, venue-shopping, overheated rhetoric, and embarrasingly futile attempts to find an activist judge (they were supposed to be simply everywhere), effectively poisoned the well of public opinion.

Several media outlets, in commenting about Gonzales v. Oregon, note the interesting inversion of the Justices' usual positions, with Scalia, Thomas and Roberts coming out strongly against states' rights, the more liberal justices defending them. It seems that empathy often trumps policy. (It also seems that Scalia, with whom I disagree about most things, tends to become not only disagreeable but nearly incomprehensible when his morals force him into positions incompatible with his strongly-defended political biases. One line that jumped out at me was his comparison of physician-assisted suicide with "polygamy or eugenic infanticide." [p.23 of his dissenting opinion] A little worked up, are we, Judge?)


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