Politics & Policy

The Schiavo Travesty (Cont.), &C.

Friends, I’ll meander on Schiavo for a while, sharing many of your letters and thoughts. (And, incidentally, I’m sorry–as usual–that I can’t look at all letters. It is impossible.)

A phenomenon I have noted for years is front-and-center in the Schiavo case: Non-conservatives lecture conservatives on how they must think and behave, as conservatives. This has long been a Mike Kinsley specialty, but many others do it too. Listen to Rep. Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.), speaking on Scarborough Country: “Anyone who goes to Congress and defines themselves as a conservative and they think it’s the place of government to be interceding in a family dispute like this really should have their conservative credentials taken away.”

Never mind the atrocious grammar–this is what practically all the liberals are saying. We are subjected to it nonstop. Who knew that conservatism equaled anarcho-libertarianism? Who knew that conservatives had to forswear the use of government–in all its branches–to keep a helpless woman from being starved to death? Who knew that conservatives weren’t in favor of the protection of life?

(Incidentally, I’ve had a hundred e-mails telling me that Terri Schiavo is not being starved to death, but dehydrated to death. Whatever.)

As I mentioned on Monday, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, next to me on a television panel, sneered, “I thought conservatives believed in the sanctity of marriage.” Yup, that’s Michael Schiavo for you: upholder of the sanctity of marriage.

Who knew you owned your spouse as a chattel, to do with her as you wished? Thanks, Loretta!

Another thing I have been reminded of, during this last week or so: A great shift has occurred in American politics. The story used to be that the Left, broadly defined, was the party of love, compassion, softness–the large-hearted party. We used to say, “Bleeding hearts!” And the Right was cold, materialistic, callous–Hobbesian. What happened?

Also on Monday, I quoted the wheelchair-bound Eleanor Smith (who was quoted by Reuters, which was quoted by the Wall Street Journal). She’s a self-described liberal, lesbian, and agnostic–and yet she says, “At this point I would rather have a right-wing Christian decide my fate than an ACLU member.”

I think I can imagine this woman: Grew up revering Roger Baldwin and the Civil Liberties Union, thought of it as the great protector of rights, most shiningly life. She must be terribly disillusioned. To be better off with Jerry Falwell than with the ACLU!

Also on Monday–I keep beginning paragraphs like that, don’t I?–I quoted Jesse Jackson, quoted by John P. Avlon in the New York Sun: “Today the Congress reconvenes to save a woman–Terri Schiavo–from starving to death, but then votes to starve millions every day. . . . They fight to save the fetus, and then starve the babies.” What accounted for this lunacy (besides lunacy)? I have a theory: The Reverend is a supporter of Terri Schiavo’s parents. And he was speaking, when he uttered those lunatic words, to Manhattan’s Riverside Church, the High Temple of the Left. In order to atone for his position in the Schiavo case, he had to spout Republican-hating lunacy. That is the theory, at least.

I am asked–by readers–whether I think the Bushes have done enough. The answer is no. I am further asked whether Governor Jeb should go for the (Bill) Bennett option: Do what it takes to feed Mrs. Schiavo, risk impeachment and jail. Yes. There is more to being an American–and more to being a leader–than following the edicts of judges. At least, that’s what I was taught in good ol’ pinko Ann Arbor (and I believe it).

How to explain the seeming need of so many to see this woman die? There are many explanations, and one of them is articulated by a reader as follows:

I think much of the Left’s support of the so-called husband stems from the fact that they get a chance to stick it to George W. Bush and his religious supporters. They couldn’t beat him at the ballot box, so Terri Schiavo’s death becomes a sort of victory for them. Pretty hard to believe, but . . .”

I know what you mean.

To continue to ramble: We are told that, no matter what, this debate is “agonizing,” “anguishing,” etc. No, it isn’t. I do not believe that the Schiavo matter is a close call. There are hard cases in this country, and the world, and this isn’t one of them. If Terri Schiavo must be starved to death–dehydrated, whatever–then patients in other circumstances have no chance whatever.

Mrs. Schiavo has parents willing to feed her and watch over her. No one else need lift a finger. Terri Schiavo’s continued existence is no skin off anyone else’s nose. No one need bestir himself; no one has to visit; everyone can just go on doin’ his thing: drinkin’, buyin’ Lotto tickets, chasing the neighbor’s daughter–whatever. People can go on studying Shakespeare or exploring Patagonia. Terri’s parents ask for nothing except that their daughter not be starved to death.

I believe that a lot of people simply want the case off their television screens. But they don’t have to watch; and the media don’t have to cover.

A reader writes, “I see that Terri is being given morphine. Why do ‘vegetables’ need morphine?” Don’t know.

And–like a lot of journalists–I have heard from many people who have been ill themselves, or who have had serious, tough illness in their families:

Dear Mr. Nordlinger:

I have two potentially disabling diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. In response to one of her typically mean-spirited comments–this one speculating whether her grandchildren would inherit my illnesses–I told my secular-humanist mother-in-law that her son had married a genetic cesspool. It’s okay: Her son, my husband, is a mensch. (For example, he sat through a yawnathon two-and-a-half-hour-plus Easter vigil Saturday night.)

Anyway, when I was growing up I had the privilege of witnessing the dignity brought to life by my severely disabled maternal aunt and her husband. “Winnie” had a high IQ, but she was trapped inside a body that over time lost the ability to walk, feed/clean itself, communicate with others, etc. Unlike many spouses of the profoundly disabled who abandon their wives or husbands, “Paul” never stopped treating his wife like the beauty queen he married after the war. After Winnie died from the complications of MS, Paul was soon diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and my cousin, a marathon runner, was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor in his spine.

After a long and mostly unhealthy life about which she never complained, my other maternal aunt, “Macey,” succumbed recently to the complications of rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease. During the past few years, I’ve also seen my husband’s grandparents move through the last chapters, where mental decline from one month to the next leads to delusions that grandchildren are strangers and health-care providers attackers. All of these experiences have led me to think long and hard about “the point.”

Perhaps owing to the “good sisters of St. Francis,” whose idea of a field trip was a class visit to a nursing home, I’ve come to understand that “the point” has little or nothing to do with what the Terri Schiavos, Aunt Winnies, and Aunt Maceys of the world have to offer, or even with their so-called quality of life. Rather, in expecting us to care for and continue to love those who no longer have the capacity to give anything in return, God invites us to pick up the cross. It’s not really about them anymore, it’s about us and what we are willing to give of ourselves in response to the challenge. I have watched hours of coverage regarding the Schiavo controversy; not once has anyone suggested that Terri’s suffering presents an opportunity for her family to give of itself purely. . . .

Try another:

Dear Jay:

We have a granddaughter who was born very prematurely and suffered a brain bleed. At eleven, she’s just learned to walk and can say a couple of words. This past Christmas was the first time she looked me in the eye and seemed to really acknowledge me. But every time I’ve ever said “I love you” to her, she has responded with a fierce hug. We love her so fiercely.

It terrifies me to think that if anything happened to this beautiful young girl, causing her to lose the little mobility and language she has, there could be people who would call her brain-dead and insist that she be killed. (Not her parents, that’s for sure. I hate to think what her father would do if anyone tried to harm her.) . . .

Here is a challenge:

Mr. Nordlinger:

When you say that removing Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube is the equivalent of shooting her–so why not shoot her?–you are being so patently un-Nordlinger-esque that it is actually quite shocking. There is a great difference between the two scenarios, if only in the fact that one is characterized by inaction and deference to the “natural order” of things, and the other by an aggressive act of violence.

Maybe I’m dense, but I don’t get it. Does deference to the natural order of things require starvation? A newborn would die of starvation–or dehydration–if not fed by his mother (or a caring other). Would that be natural? In a sense, I guess. No food, no continued material life–so has Momma Nature decreed! Terri Schiavo is not a child, but she is helpless to feed herself, and her mother wishes to feed her. (Why not?) People are often helpless, requiring the aid of others.

If the point is to have her dead–because it would be merciful to her–why go through this starvation/dehydration? Why not, indeed, shoot her, or smother her with a pillow–whatever? And I’m not sure that passively standing by should be honored as “deference to the natural order of things.” We intervene all the time, to stop bad outcomes.

But this is beginning to sound like kindergarten class–and the Schiavo case does, it is true, return us to the basics.

Have another:


If conservatives actually read absurd columns like yours, they are even more ignorant than I had imagined. . . . Thousands of Americans suffer and die yearly due to conservative Republicans’ greed and support of kleptocracy. [No clue–sorry.] Conservative leadership doesn’t care about Terri Schiavo as a human being or about her life belonging to her. It appears that to people like you, her life belongs to your theocratic belief system and/or as a symbol to shamelessly attempt to dishonestly manipulate public opinion so you can impose your perverted values on the country.

Lovely, no? But you haven’t seen anything yet. I’m a fairly keen student of human minds, in all their depravity, but it’s hard to comprehend something so twisted as this:


On June 14th, 2000, Peter McWilliams choked on his own vomit. He had been diagnosed with AIDS and Cancer. He took so many medications, he had difficulty keeping them down. He stated that the only thing that seemed to work was smoking cannabis. He should have been allowed to do this under California’s proposition 215. But his home was raided by Federal DEA agents and was imprisoned. The only way the fed’s would release him was if he promised not to smoke the only thing that allowed him to live, cannabis. He died because of this. Many of the same questions that are asked about Terri Schiavo would have applied to Peter McWilliams. . . .

You can fulminate all you want about Rep. Sanchez sneering about the sanctity of marriage, but that is precisely what many on the right did when it came to Peter McWilliams. Makes you kinda angry don’t it?

Your appalled? This is terrible? Liberalism is a “death cult”? No Jay, you and your fellow Republicans stood by while the Federal Government murdered Peter McWilliams. I don’t remember you or any other Republican expressing outrage about McWilliams horrible death. I know how you feel Jay, I was sick to my stomach when McWilliams drowned in his own vomit. But you and all your conservative friends stood by silently without a peep. The invoice for your actions, or lack thereof, came due this week.

Forget for a moment that NR is a marijuana-legalization magazine. Forget that medical marijuana has long been a particular cause of the magazine. Forget that our founder, WFB, was a friend of McWilliams, and wrote often and stoutly in his behalf. The invoice for your actions, or lack thereof, came due this week. Those words ought to chill the bone.

Terri Schiavo must die because Peter McWilliams did. Must the Jews have died on account of the Armenians? Conservatives must be punished, because they were inactive for Peter McWilliams, and the punishment must take the form of Terri Schiavo’s death–she is the human sacrifice; she is the “invoice,” come due.

As I say, I know something about depravity and hate, but this, I did not expect, and am powerless to explain.

I can say something about shame. There are parallels between the Elián González case and the Terri Schiavo case, and one is that they have induced a certain shame in some Americans. Consider:

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

With the deluge of mail you get, I doubt you’ll read this, but I’ll feel better for saying it. This case has been eating away at my heart. For the first time, even after eight years of Bill Clinton, I want to say I’m ashamed to be an American. . . . Even people in my own party seem more inclined to gripe about state sovereignty.

And this case, like all such cases, has provoked gallows humor:


You asked, “Can I be killed for saying ’stewardess’?” The answer is no, you can’t be killed, but you may have your food and water withheld. I’m not sure what happens after that, but according to the papers, it’s euphoric.

And this from Ned Rice, the humor writer and NRO contributor:

As of this morning the network news (radio) was still referring to Terri’s current residence as “the hospice where she is being cared for.” At this point shouldn’t they change that to “the hospice where she isn’t being cared for”? Also, people should stop saying Terri was on “life support.” Terri was not on a respirator, or a ventilator, or a heart-lung machine, or dialysis, or any other mechanical device used to simulate life. Like about one in three housewives in this country, Terri was on a liquid diet. Before her feeding tube was pulled, the only “machine” keeping Terri alive was a Hamilton Beach blender like the one in my mother’s kitchen.

I’m going to leave the Schiavo case, certainly for now, but I’d like to publish one more letter, which imparts a glow (at least, to some of us):

Good morning:

There are those of us on the left who are sickened by the Terri Schiavo case. To me being a liberal means having empathy for folks in distress. Terri Schiavo is clearly in distress. We should help her.

I believe in a culture of life. This belief leads me to oppose abortion, the death penalty, and euthanasia. I am also a civil libertarian. In a pluralistic society these competing values sometimes conflict. But not in this instance. . . .

I am a caregiver and have been for ten years to my 87-year-old mom. She has stage 3 colon cancer and is an amputee. She’s alert and oriented, but certainly lacks the ability to care for herself. If I didn’t prepare her meals and deliver them to her she would presumably starve. How is that different from the feeding tube? Physically challenged people are often dependent on others for their sustenance.

Please keep in mind that there are those of us on the left who want Terri to live. . . .

I will, and do.

‐A couple of notes about Cuba? Many days ago, I received a letter from a correspondent in Michigan, who enclosed an article from the Detroit News. He commented, “Makes the BoSox-Yankee rivalry look a bit trite.”

The article was out of Lakeland, Fla., site of the Detroit Tigers’ spring-training camp:

After all that, she’s taking the bus.

It’s been 11 years since Tigers center fielder Alex Sanchez has seen his mother. The day he hugged her goodbye in their Havana home, saying he was leaving Cuba on a raft to try to get to the United States, she wept.

The whole family wept. There was no telling when they might see one another again. There was no telling if they ever would–although, at 28, he now says he would have risked a return next year just to see her.

For eight months after he left, until Mercedes Sanchez heard her son’s voice again, she thought he might be dead–”she thought we die on the water,” Alex said.

Those who leave Cuba on a raft know the risk, and Sanchez will never forget the night he tied himself down in a storm to avoid being washed overboard.

Greedy, capitalist, ungrateful kids. Always trying to leave the socialist paradise . . .

And please consider this, so sad, so typical–so familiar to me:

Jay, longtime reader of your column. Consider myself a 9/11 Democrat–one who actually uses his brain for thinking through issues.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were invited to a birthday dinner at the home of some friends. All are quite liberal (we live on the West Coast), and I often find myself the lone dissenter.

Also attending this dinner was a couple from Cuba, friends of the birthday people through the art world. We had normal chit-chat during dinner, then someone asked the Cuban husband how long he’d been in the States.

“Three years,” was his response.

What followed was amusing and troubling at the same time. Everyone (except me) immediately jumped in and started raving about what a great country Cuba was, compared with the U.S.: better health care, lower infant mortality, and the music!!! Plus, Fidel, Che, and the revolutionaries–how romantic!

If I hadn’t been reading NR and NRO, I might have just checked out. But I paid attention. Specifically, I watched how the Cuban couple reacted to these statements.

To put it mildly, the look on their faces was one of disbelief. In response to comments about health-care and infant-mortality statistics, the wife said, “And you believe the information coming out of the Castro government? They make those numbers up to look good to other countries.”

The responses from the liberals were along the lines of “Well . . .,” “Uh . . .” “Well, the U.S. should have a better infant-mortality rate in any case.” They weren’t ready to concede that people who’d lived in Cuba all their lives knew more about what was going on than they did. Because, of course, we knew better, thanks to reading the New York Times and The New Yorker.

I followed up and asked the husband what had motivated him to move to the U.S.

“I was persecuted.”


I asked what had happened. What did he do? How long was he persecuted?

“I was associated with the wrong people and was persecuted for seven years. Finally had enough and spent a year going to the American and Cuban authorities to get permission to leave.”

Dead silence. It was clear he and his wife had endured some pretty horrendous treatment, all because he had associated with the wrong people.

I didn’t feel comfortable asking him what they did to him. It was a birthday dinner. What did come out was that he had recently passed his citizenship test and was on his way to becoming an American citizen.

“This is my country now.”

I said, “Welcome to our country.”

‐Remember that I mentioned that airline pilot’s blurting out “Have a great Easter” (forgetting the sanctioned “holiday”)? Some letters:

Jay, thought you’d enjoy/be frustrated by this: I passed a Presbyterian church yesterday (Easter Sunday) and saw their sign advertising a “Seasonal Service.” Even the churches are giving in!

Oh, those especially! And I love that “enjoy/be frustrated by.” There’s a reader who knows Impromptus!

And this:

Chuckled at your pilot’s having wished the passengers a “Happy Easter.” I’m a Presbyterian minister [must be in the air] who has taken early retirement (I’m 63) and spent the end of the summer till mid-January at Virginia Beach. I got a little bored and signed on as a “holiday extra” at Barnes & Noble. It was great fun, but we were instructed never to say “Merry Christmas.” I broke the rule several times, especially if my customers were buying books by C. S. Lewis! No one complained and one even said, “Thank you for not saying ‘Happy Holidays.’”

And another:

Jay, I am irritated at myself today.

I was just in a grocery store to purchase some lunch from the deli. Checking me out was an obviously Subcontinental immigrant. She was courteous as she rang up my items and we made small talk. As she handed me my plastic bag, she said, “Enjoy your lunch and have a Happy Easter.”

The frustrating part? I have been so intellectually hobbled by the PC police that the best I could muster was a weak smile and a thank-you. I have been so conditioned by the cursed Left to view people according to what group they belong to, and to be paralyzed by what might cause offense, that it was beyond my power to comprehend that she might be a Christian, or, if not, wouldn’t have been offended by my wishing her a happy Easter in return.

Oh, well!

There’s always next time.

‐Finally, I have received many, many–many–responses about soft drinks: whether we say “pop,” “soda,” “tonic,” “Coke” (generically), or something else. I will publish only one response, because it surprised me:

“It’s a curious thing, but when I was a child in England we always called soft drinks ‘pop.’ So it’s not just Michiganders and other Americans. Thought you might like to know.”

I do!



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