Terri Schiavo

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I
won’t attempt to take sides between the husband and the woman’s
family. That was a civil case contesting the claims of the husband
and her relatives. We can't argue the merits of the case, because
we don't know whether Michael Schiavo's statements about his wife’s
wishes are true or false. One can take an ironclad position only
if one is opposed to suicide or assisted suicide under all circumstances
(or, I suppose, if one is opposed to life under all circumstances).

When participants can't agree, our system provides only one remedy
– a civil court case. And in this case the courts decided in favor
of the husband. The judges ruled on questions of law; they weren’t
trying to produce Solomonic decisions of "what’s best."

What
we should look at are the political aspects. And there’s no question
in my mind that the Republican response to the situation was entirely
political. The Congress and the President were speaking the only
language politicians know – the language of Grandstanding.

Congress
passed a law that applied to only one person. That fact alone demonstrates
that there was no principle involved – only a desire to bring about
a specific outcome. Had there been a principle involved, the law
would have applied to all Americans, not just to one person. Not
only that, what Congress passed was an ex post facto law
– changing the rules relating to a specific case after the case
was underway.

As
we’ve seen over and over, Congressmen consider themselves in a position
to use their power to force anything they want on the American people
– from overruling courts in the case of a dying woman to whether
or not steroids should be prohibited in Major League Baseball.

Perhaps
next year they’ll legislate that all houses on your block should
be painted purple.

President
Bush joined in the Grandstanding. In the wee small hours of Monday,
March 21, he interrupted one of his frequent vacations to fly back
to Washington to sign the bill Congress had passed – the bill that
allowed the Schiavo family to sue in federal court (a power that
is given to Congress nowhere in the Constitution).

Bush’s
flight to Washington was purely political. His aides frequently
fly to Texas to have him sign bills before time runs out for him
to sign them. There was no reason they couldn’t have done that this
time. His going to Washington was purely symbolic. In fact, after
signing the bill to much ado, he flew all the way back West for
a town meeting in Tucson, Arizona.

At
the town meeting,
he explained his signing of the bill
by saying, "It is
wise to always err on the side of life." I’m not sure I’m aware
of any other situation where he’s taken that position. Certainly,
he didn’t hesitate to plunge into Iraq – and he still says that
whatever he thinks he’s achieved there is worth the tens of thousands
of lives that were snuffed out.

But
back to our exciting story.

The
next day the poll results began to surface. Time
magazine
found that 75% thought it was wrong for Congress to
intervene.
A CBS poll
found that 82% thought Congress and the President
should butt out. Those opposed to government intervening even included
Republicans and evangelicals.

So
what did our President, who always errs on the side of life, do?

He
backtracked, of course. The White House apparently leaked the information
that President Bush hadn’t really wanted to sign the bill; he did
so only because of pressure from his political base. That, of course,
is what great leaders do – allow themselves to be tossed and turned
by the whims of their political backers. Leaders are not expected
to help shape public opinion by educating people; they’re expected
to follow public opinion. A "great leader" is someone
who can rush to the front of an existing parade.

It’s
just that occasionally the leader jumps in front of the wrong parade
by mistake.

April
2, 2005

Harry Browne [send
him mail
], the author of Why
Government Doesn’t Work

and many other books, was the Libertarian presidential candidate
in 1996 and 2000. See his website.

Harry
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