Sunday, March 20, 2005

In Defense of ... What, Exactly?

Even my cable provider was disappointed with the quality of debate on the Terri Schiavo bill. The C-SPAN menu description insisted on calling the late-night session "The British House of Commons". I was not fooled by this, as the House of Commons looks like a school-boy reenactment of Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch. Our Congress looks like the old Soviet Congress of People's Deputies, only with older people and uglier suits.

I have to point out that this incident demonstrates what utter losers the Democrats have made themselves into. After unanimous consent to hold the session, they put up a loud and visible opposition to a bill that almost half of the Democrats wound up voting for anyway. It fell to Tom DeLay to salvage some of their bacon, by generously pointing out that this was a bi-partisan effort. That's perfectly true, but I doubt if the public is going to see it that way, as it has been framed as another Democrats versus Republicans furball - framed that way by Democrats, who apparently can't bear to let any issue go by without taking a public whipping. They end up with the onus of having opposed something that many of them didn't oppose, and that many more of them would probably have supported if someone hadn't decided to turn it into another of their patented political debacles.

Since it would have been so easy to give this one a pass - to let just one freight train whistle past without getting their Beverly Hillbilly jalopy stalled across the tracks right in front of it - you would think that the Democrats who spoke out in opposition did so out of deep principle.

They made a great show of doing so, but the result was ridiculous. Listening to a Northeastern Liberal talk about States' Rights is like watching a dog copulate with a sofa cushion. Momentarily amusing, but ultimately embarrassing and ineffective. The Florida natives did little better, however. Robert Wexler said that Republicans were trying to trash "200 years of legal tradition" in the state of Florida. Do we really need to sanctify all 200 years of that tradition, which would mean reinstating slavery? Now who's going too far?

The showcase argument of the evening, however, was spearheaded by Debbie Wasserman Schultz. This ploy had some propaganda potential, because Debbie Wasserman Schultz looks like precocious Fort Lauderdale jail-bait and she had a recent family tragedy of her own to appeal to. Cue the violins (Robert Wexler had assured us that this was about rule of law, not emotional appeals, but that was just a sneaky Confederate tactic to put us off our guard while Debbie charged into our flank).

Alas, Debbie's argument that Congress was intruding on a "deeply private and intimate" family matter will only fool those who are hopeless fools already. Again, the Democrats displayed an almost willful tendency to mix their message. They had been hammering on the notion that this matter has already been litigated extensively, and litigation is anything but private. If ligitation becomes intimate, the judge needs to get his courtroom under control. Even if the other half of the orchestra weren't playing a different tune, this would be a tone-deaf argument. It's hard to put over the notion that Terri's family is being intruded upon when her mother is on television 24 hours a day begging Congress to do exactly that.

Although I did not watch every word of the debate, it was obvious that something was missing. Isn't this a "Right to Die" case? The note was sounded here and there, but in the end no such case was made. They stuck with Republican-bashing and emotional obfustication (horribly choreographed emotional obfustication) instead. Why was that?

It must have been some sort of vestigial remnant of their once healthy self-preservation instinct. Though I generally treat "Right to Die" sentiments with contempt (since life is at worst a temporary problem) I recognize that there is a rational case to be made. But you have to take Dirty Harry's advice: DO IT AT HOME. The Red State folks really don't like to hear the government enthusing about killing people. They are not overly prone to longing for suicide (or for emigration to Canada) and are not overly concerned that the government might frustrate their hypothetical attempts at self-destruction. After all, the government cannot control rodeo, speed-boats, or off-season hunting. When politicians start talking about a "Right to Die", they get paranoid. As in flashing-on-Nazi-carbon-monoxide-trucks paranoid.

As a political issue, the "Right to Die" is death itself. That being the only principle that could possibly be advanced here, the Democrats are reduced to disorganized ankle-biting. Not enough to (Heaven forfend) win, but just enough to leave themselves holding the stinky bag.

I suspect this is right where they want to be. I'm reminded of Spud's job interview in Trainspotting.

There is one aspect of this that seems clear and consistent. Opponents of the bill constantly appealed to two highly questionable points, which they have made into articles of faith: The competence (Pope-like infallibility, almost) of Judge Greer, and the veracity and good faith of Michael Schiavo. Those are not the horses I would have picked in this race, but maybe they have some inside information.