Politics & Policy

The Schiavo Travesty, &C.

Friends, I’m writing this column on Friday evening, and will be unable to update it–so thanks for bearing that in mind.

Some of you–some readers–have asked me to comment on the Schiavo case. But I’m afraid I can’t–not properly–because I’m so appalled by it. I am still adjusting to the fact that I’m living in a country that will gladly starve a helpless woman to death.

Moreover, I keep hearing that Michael Schiavo is Everyman. If that’s true, then Everyman stinks–stinks bad. I suppose that someone of mere elementary decency would have to be Extraordinary Man–and that doesn’t sound right.

I was on a television show yesterday with Rep. Loretta Sanchez–the lady who beat Bob Dornan in California–and she sneered, “I thought conservatives believed in the sanctity of marriage.” Who knew that the sanctity of marriage included the right, or the duty, to starve your wife to death?

I must go now–go out of this topic–because, as I say, it is too terrible to contemplate, or would be, if anything were too terrible to contemplate.

‐No, one additional word. I have a friend–Michael Walsh, the writer–who insists that liberalism is a “death cult.” (Michael has a well-thought-out explanation of this. And, by the way, when I say “liberalism,” I’m using it in the contemporary American sense–which is bonkers, but that’s not my fault.) He wrote me the other day–concerning Schiavo–and said, in essence, “See?” Yes, I see. It’s amazing how they–you know: they–need her to die. She has to die, or they will be livid. Her continued life is a kind of offense to them. If she doesn’t die, then Tom DeLay and Jerry Falwell . . . well, they’ll be happy!

Anyway, back to “death cult.” I was reading Mark Steyn’s column in The Western Standard, which dealt with the reluctance of Europeans to procreate, and there were those words: “death cult.” Steyn wrote, “The facts of life remain conservative”–that alludes to a Thatcher aphorism–”and the liberal fantasy erected in their place is, as we’re about to see in Spain and Belgium and Sweden, a death cult.”

We will have more on this important topic later.

‐But before I quit altogether, I ask a question (not an original one): What would it hurt? Who would be hurt by Mrs. Schiavo’s continuing to be fed–by her not being starved to death? I mean, it’s no skin off the New York Times’s nose, right? No skin off Loretta Sanchez’s. Her parents and siblings want her. Michael Schiavo can “move on”–can obtain a divorce, marry his girlfriend, wash his hands of the old wife. But no, he has to have “closure,” in the form of Terri Schiavo’s death (by starvation–did I mention that?). And his supporters, for sick reasons of their own, also have to have her dead. She has to be gotten out of the way. Her life is a rebuke to them, somehow.

In a discussion with a friend, I mentioned something about Dr. Mengele’s laboratory. He said, “No, this is worse. Mengele had the pretense–indeed, the argument–that he was benefiting humanity [with his inhuman experiments]. Where’s the argument here? They’re just starving her to death.”

Now I’m done. For now.

‐No, I’m not. I hope very much that you saw this article by Harriet McBryde Johnson, published at Slate.com. It is as intelligent a statement on the Schiavo case as I’ve seen.

‐And, by the way: Rather than starve her to death, why not shoot her? I mean, why not put a bullet through her head, or chest, or whatever? What’s the difference (except that the gunshot may be “kinder”)? “Removal of the feeding tube” sounds so anodyne–they’re just starving her to death. Why pretty it up? Why not shoot her? Or take a chainsaw and behead her? If the point is to have her dead–is the method all that relevant?

And please: no more pretending that food and water are “heroic measures.”

‐I quote the Wall Street Journal: “Demonstrating in her wheelchair with a ‘Feed Terri’ sign in Florida this week, Eleanor Smith–a self-described lesbian, liberal and agnostic–told Reuters: ‘At this point I would rather have a right-wing Christian decide my fate than an ACLU member.’”

‐In his New York Sun column, John P. Avlon quoted the Rev. Jesse Jackson, preaching/speechifying in the Riverside Church. “Whose god is God?” said Jackson. “There is a profound theological debate in our nation tonight about the nature and character of God. . . . Today the Congress reconvenes to save a woman–Terri Schiavo–from starving to death, but then votes to starve millions every day. Whose god is God? They fight to save the fetus, and then starve the babies. Whose god is God?”

Reported Avlon, “Enthusiastic applause rolled through the pews . . .” No doubt, no doubt.

Jackson further said, “There is a fascist attack on civil rights and civil liberties. We cannot be silent.”

Consider his words, just for a moment: Congress “votes to starve millions every day.” And “there is a fascist attack on civil rights…” I will repeat what I, and others, have said before: that the position of Jesse Jackson in American life owes something to racism. To white liberal racism. If this nutcase and charlatan were white, he’d be ignored, scorned, or pitied. Instead, he is an honored Democrat. There will never be a convention, so long as he’s alive, at which he won’t speak.

The Democratic party should be made to answer for him. But, of course, it never is.

Incidentally, Jackson told Avlon that he doesn’t know whether Iraq is better off without Saddam Hussein. “All we know is that they are dying, daily.”

Where aren’t they dying, daily, pal?

‐Conservatives were very pleased with an article by Leslie H. Gelb in the Wall Street Journal; they circulated it widely. They liked, among other things, the observation that “too many Democrats portray the rest of the world as just a bunch of misunderstood bunny rabbits who misunderstand us.”

I myself was not so enchanted by the Gelb article, when I got around to reading it. He wrote, “Republican ayatollahs come in three varieties: The old-fashioned conservatives of the Jesse Helms and John Bolton type, torn between their traditional isolationism and the impulse to nuke the bad guys and get it over with. . . .”

Now: Could a pillar of the Republican foreign-policy establishment (if there is one) get away with writing so wildly? Leslie H. Gelb was a New York Times reporter, columnist, and editor; he was a State Department official under Carter; and he is now president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. And he is capable of writing–not just muttering, but writing in an important national newspaper–”Republican ayatollahs come in three varieties: The old-fashioned . . .” Well, you read it, I know–through to the “nuke the bad guys” libel.

No, I find myself unenamored of Leslie H. Gelb.

‐Did you catch this news? “A French court yesterday gave the maximum ten-year prison sentence to the ringleader of an alleged plot to send a suicide bomber into the American embassy in Paris.”

Ten years! Mighty you-know-what of them. But then, it was le maximum.

‐There has been some talk of Cheney-for-President–and I think I know why (aside from the manifest greatness of Cheney). The Republican party is in the weird position of being the majority party in the country–I think they’ve become that–and having no candidate for the next presidential election. Jeb ought to be the guy–but he’s stuck with this dynasty BS (about which you know my opinion). I don’t believe the GOP will nominate a pro-choicer: not Rudy, not Romney, not any of the rest. McCain? Maybe he could win the general, but I don’t think he could win the nomination. Popularity among independents, Democrats, and the press doesn’t get you the GOP nomination, as we saw in 2000. Frist? The performances I have witnessed have not been encouraging.

Anyway, the GOP presidential nominee in ‘08 is not obvious. Is far from obvious. And that’s why there’s this extraneous talk about Cheney and Rice. That talk reflects the dearth, and the fear, too.

You can be the majority party–but you still can’t beat Hillary without a horse.

‐Speaking of Cheney: In every interview he gives, he makes a cute remark about Ottumwa, Iowa. That is, if ‘08 comes up, he explains how important it is to Bush to have a vice president who’s not looking to replace him, and who doesn’t worry about how his actions or words will play in Ottumwa. He usually mentions Ottumwa’s “precinct committeeman” or “county chairman.” Some enterprising journalist should call up whoever the Republican honcho is in Ottumwa and ask him for his views. I should do it myself–but I’m on an airplane at the moment, and those calls are durned expensive.

‐You may have missed this tiny news story: “Wives and mothers of jailed Cuban dissidents dressed in white and marched through downtown Havana to press for their release two years after a crackdown on President Fidel Castro’s critics. They marched to the Cuban Union of Journalists to demonstrate against the failure of Cuba’s state-run media to report on jailed opponents.”

Do you know how courageous those wives and mothers were? Do you know what they risked to stage that march? What would we do in their shoes? Does it not give you some satisfaction that such people are living among us–I mean, in this race, the human one? We’re not all cowards and quislings.

‐In a column last week, I quoted from a recent Bush press conference, and I forgot to quote the choicest bit. I make up for that now:

“Look, history–shall I give you my talk on history and presidencies? Okay, thank you. What’s interesting is, George Washington is now getting a second, or third, or fifth, or tenth look in history. I read the Ellis book, which is a really interesting book, and–’His Excellency,’ it’s called. And McCullough is writing a book on George Washington, as well. People are constantly evaluating somebody’s standing in history, a president’s standing in history, based upon events that took place during the presidency, based upon things that happened after the presidency–like in my case, hopefully, the march of freedom continues way after my presidency. And so I just don’t worry about vindication or standing.”

I have to continue, because it gets choicer, or remains as choice:

“The other thing: It turns out in this job you’ve got a lot on your plate on a regular basis–you don’t have much time to sit around and wander [!], lonely, in the Oval Office, kind of asking different portraits, ‘How do you think my standing will be?’ I’ve got a lot to do. And I like to make decisions, and I make a lot of them.

“But, you know, look: The people who deserve the credit in Iraq are the Iraqi citizens that defied the terrorists . . .”

Forgive my repetition, but there will never, ever be another one like him, unfortunately.

‐One of the glorious things about obits is seen in the following headline: “Patience Gray, 87, Food Writer; Brought Paella to Britain.” You’re either charmed by that or not. I don’t think I could explain what makes it so delightful, almost breathtaking. (And that name: Patience Gray!)

‐Speaking of obits, let’s have a little language. (You’ll see what I mean in a moment.) Sometimes I’m asked about the use of a hyphen–and I’d like you to take a look at another obit headline: “Leona Rostenberg, 96, Rare Book Dealer.” Now, the meaning of that is clear: She wasn’t a book dealer who was rare–one of a kind–she was a dealer in rare books. Still, in certain contexts, a hyphen could be helpful (“rare-book dealer”). One’s guide should be ease of reading. If the reader has to hesitate, to wonder, for a second . . . you’ve sort of failed him.

‐A little music? For a review of the baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in recital, and a review of the New York Philharmonic, led by Sir Neville Marriner, playing Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Nights Dream, please go here.

‐And now, some letters. You recall our series on “assuming Republicanism”–well, here’s another contribution:

“Dear Jay: My fiancée and I were down at the Jersey shore town of Manasquan last summer with several other couples around July 4. One night after dinner and drinks we watched the town’s fireworks display. Probably the coolest firework of the evening, and the one that got the biggest crowd reaction, was one that made the American flag. Whereupon one of the (liberal) women in our group muttered, ‘Jeez, this town must be run by Republicans.’”

The main point, of course: If a Republican made that comment, he’d be damned as a McCarthyite.

‐In that column last week, I talked a bit about recent Amtrak travels: The cars have been too hot; and a café attendant refused to accept five pennies from me, saying, “We can’t turn ‘em in.”

Here is a letter from Amtrak’s chief of corporate communications:

Dear Mr. Nordlinger:

Thanks for your National Journal [!] online comments about “a couple of things” at Amtrak (hot cars and no pennies). When the HVAC system isn’t working properly in a car, it is to be bad-ordered by the conductor and fixed by the Mechanical Department. [“Bad-ordered” is a term I didn’t know, but I’ve done some Googling around, and I do now.]

Each car is set to 68-72 degrees (heat comes on below 68, AC comes on at 72). It’s automatic. There are 18 temperature sensors in each car. If the thermostat sensor system isn’t working–too hot in your case–the conductor can shut it down for a while, then back on, but he/she can’t increase the setting to trick it into believing the right temperature’s been reached.

I’ve been in your situation, and while not ideal, switching the system on and off is a temporary solution. The real solution is fixing the car, and generally that can be done pretty quickly.

I’m sorry you weren’t given a more adequate explanation of the problem or a more customer-friendly response than “If I were you, I’d go sit by the door.” In the end, the key is getting the problem phoned in to the car desk and getting it fixed right away.

On pennies, sorry again. We accept all legal tender. (Hey, we can use all the pennies we can get these days.) If you have a date and train number, we’ll remind the café attendant.


Bill Schulz

I wrote Mr. Schulz thanking him for his letter, and he again invited me to identify the café attendant. I declined, not wanting to cause the man trouble. (But if I ever meet him again, and he won’t take my pennies . . .) This reminded me of an incident last fall. In Impromptus, I wrote of taking a flight on which a stewardess was wearing a Kerry button. (Wait a minute: Can I be killed for saying “stewardess”?) I happened to name the airline–I didn’t even think about it–and got a letter from one of its officials. She wanted to know the flight number and my date of travel, so the flight attendant (there, I’m being a good boy) could be advised of policy. I declined that, too–but if I see a Hillary ‘08 button on her a few years from now . . .

‐Finally, a reader alerted me to this remarkable map showing where in this country we say “pop,” where we say “soda,” etc. (I had said “pop” in my Amtrak item–I’m a good Michigander.) I have often been teased about saying “pop,” but “soda” will always sound odd to me–I think of club soda, or baking soda. And, in the South, to call a Fresca (say) “Coke” . . . well, that takes the cake.

‐Whoa, whoa, whoa. I’m typing this column on a plane–I think I mentioned that–and we’re about to land in Newark, and the pilot just said, “Have a great Easter.” Can he be shot for that? He hasn’t been conditioned to say “holiday”! This time, I’m not naming the airline–a succession of goon squads couldn’t get it out of me.

See you soon.


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