Human Exceptionalism

Terri Schiavo Law As It Really Happened

Yesterday, I bemoaned the latest historical revisionism about the passage of the federal law to protect Terri Schiavo. I am so sick of the pretense that it was a Republican theocratic game–when in reality, it was a very bipartisan bill choreographed through passage by the leaders of both parties–that I decided to become an accurate history writer.  From “Obama and Santorum Agreed on Terri Schiavo Law” in the Daily Caller:

Newt Gingrich likes to write “alternate history” novels,  such as “Gettysburg,” in which the South wins the epochal battle that in the  real world saved the Union. Such fantasies are harmless fun because everyone  knows they merely are a game of let’s play pretend. But some historical revisionism is politically pernicious. Case in point: Now that Rick Santorum has emerged as a credible candidate for the Republican  nomination for president, some in the media and the Democratic Party are weaving  a blatantly false narrative about the passage of the 2005 federal law intervening in the Terri Schiavo case. Supposedly, the alleged religious fanatic  Rick Santorum — he wants to outlaw contraception, don’t you know! — along with Republican theocratic coconspirators, overcame courageous Democrats’ objections to pass a law interfering with a husband’s loving quest to give his wife the merciful release.

But that isn’t even close to what happened seven years ago. In actuality, the Schiavo law was one of the most bipartisan laws passed during the entire  Bush presidency.

I get into the details of why the law was proposed and note, as I did yesterday here and have repeatedly in other forums, that the bill received unanimous consent in the Senate, allowing it to be passed by voice vote without a quorum.  I didn’t write this, but behind the scense–I know because I was hip deep in the whole debacle–some liberal senators were active drivers of the law, for example Tom Harkin.

The House of Representatives showed the bipartisan nature the bill’s support:

Of course, it takes two houses of Congress to tango. So, in the House of  Representatives, it was all Republican theocrats all of the time, right? Wrong. The New York Times reported at the time that leaders of both parties “negotiated the final [terms of the] bill.” Moreover, the Democratic leadership did not take an “official position” for or against the measure, surely an odd thing if the country was facing The Attack of the Theocrats. Most notably, because of the emergency nature of the bill, it needed 2/3 of the members voting to pass — meaning it would be very difficult for the Republicans to enact the bill without Democratic help.

And they got that help:

The bill passed by 203-58. As in the Senate, the actual vote demonstrates  that few Democratic members saw the bill as an assault on American freedom at  the time. How else can you explain the fact that 102 Democrats were so  unconcerned — or less charitably, just unsure which way the political wind would  blow — that they didn’t vote at all. (Seventy-one Republicans took the same easy  way out, including Texas Representative Ron Paul.) Of the 100 Democrats who did vote, 47 voted yea and 53 nay — meaning that in total, only 25% of the House caucus actually voted against the bill.  Supporters included such notable Democrats as Jesse Jackson Jr., the powerful James Oberstar and Tennessean Harold Ford.

I describe how I think both sides of the argument came from places of integrity and honor.  I then describe the genesis of the revisionism:

When polls showed in the wake of Terri’s death that most Americans opposed the federal law, suddenly the Democrats started finger-pointing. In a breathtaking  example of rank opportunism, Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean — who had remained silent when the bill was up for a vote — declared Democrats intended to  make the law a partisan issue in the 2006 election, as if his own elected  officials hadn’t been full participants in the process.

I point out that Obama said in a 2008 debate that allowing the Schiavo Law through was his biggest mistake, and conclude:

One can believe Congress was right or wrong in passing the Terri Schiavo law.  But no one should be allowed to rewrite history for rank partisan advantage.  Those who now decry the law as an outrageous Republican power play are about as  factual as Gingrich’s novel is about the Battle of Gettysburg. But Gingrich was  just having fun. The history revisers are dancing a political jig on Terry  Schiavo’s grave.

Facts (still) matter.


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