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As science opens new frontiers and thus human capability, life situations emerge that demand clarification of traditional ethics–outside of science’s domain. To “keep Terri Schiavo alive”, the “right to life” mob had challenged previous limits by both appealing to science–or God — for a miracle. Their demands for extraordinary, disproportionate measures have even frightened traditional and libertarian Republicans. These Soldiers of God, after all, served as the shock troops who mobilized voters in 2004. Ironically, they use all the benefits of science–digital mass media — while challenging its premises with superstition, “faith.”
Goaded on by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, weeping throngs prayed outside of the hospice where Terri Schiavo had lain comatose for fifteen years before she died on March 31. DeLay, the hard liner in the imperial coalition, shows no concern for process, either in the House where he controls with an iron had, or outside where his ethical lapses have led to a cascade of charges against him in the courts. Aside from his Nazi-like manner of enforcing his will on other Members, DeLay’s derives his political strength from that sector of society that has received the “fundamentalist” label.
If law gets in the way of God’s will, as fundamentalists interpret it, then make a new law, whether or not it fits into the Constitution.
But that didn’t prove quite as easy as Bush making war on Iraq, for example. In the Schiavo case, the courts did not cooperate or yield to the supposedly moral bullying.
With the full support of the ultra reactionary but informal Republican caucus, Terri’s parents and siblings claimed that US, state and local governments had violated God’s law by removing the feeding tube from the woman who doctors deemed in “a persistent vegetative state.” They demanded that the courts reinsert the feeding tube that had sustained Terri for 15 years.
DeLay, whose own father had his life support mechanism removed, claimed on the House floor that “God has brought us to Terri Schiavo to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America.” By this he means the current legal cases against him for corruption and ethics violations will hopefully receive less media coverage and the prosecutors will feel intimidated.
Along with other so-called true Christians, including the President and his Florida Governor brother, Jeb, DeLay exhorted the faithful to rally behind Terri, and forced the House to vote on a law that would replace Terri’s tube, effectively emasculating the courts and nullifying the few existing states rights–a cause that once excited the far right and still gets Jesse Jackson into the m ore-Christian than thou publicity game.
DeLay characterized as “an act of medical terrorism” the removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube. Then the Bushes and even DeLay read the poll results, showing an overwhelmingly negative response to his rhetoric and tactics. Since then silence from the White House, Florida State House and even DeLay has been deafening.
Rightwing AM radio commentators, however, kept the beat going since the ratings experts assure them that a large audience continued to tune in to participate vicariously in the Schiavo drama.
Shock AM radio jock Michael Savage made Terri his personal crusade, criticizing his previously beloved Bush brothers as “phonies.” They really didn’t care about human life because, Savage asserted, “they refused send in troops to save Terriby re-plugging her feeding tube.” This case involved saving a “life,” pleaded Savage, a rabid supporter of the death penalty and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq–as well as others that even Bush hasn’t yet started. Savage blamed “the radical Democratic left an army of soulless ghouls,” and intoned that “being of the living dead, they live in a world of death and try to impose it on we the living.”
Savage did not transfer the love he felt for Terri to that “radical homosexual” Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) or Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), “radical abortion Mafiosa.” Savage continued: “They have said that the tears of Terri Schiavo are mechanical. They have said that her smile is reflexive. They can rip an emerging child from the womb, murder it, and call this a compassionate act. Like Mengele — the doctor of death from the Nazi concentration camps — the radical, soulless Democrats keep referring to “the doctors,” as if a medical degree guaranteed humanity.”
Ann Coulter repeated DeLay’s “medical terrorism” barb and compared the gravity of Terri’s situation to that of racial segregation in the south in the early 1960s. “Democrats have called out armed federal agents in order to prevent black children from attending a public school in Little Rock, ArkSo how about a Republican governor sending in the National Guard to stop an innocent American woman from being starved to death in Florida? The decadent buffoon Bill Clinton sent armed agents from the INS to seize a small boy from an American family – [Elian Gonzalez] despite rulings by the majestic and infallible Florida courts granting custody of the boy to that very family” (March 24 ann coulter.com).
Rush Limbaugh’s audience ratings showed radio gold in the Schiavo hills. Rush questioned “those of you who are our friends on the left. How many of you want Terri Schiavo to die simply because some Christian conservatives want her to live? Do you want Terri Schiavo to die because some Christian conservatives want her to live?”
Rush preaches family values and Christian morality, but recently divorced his third wife and was convicted of illegal drug use.”
Limbaugh continued his assault on the left. “You just despise the red-state, hayseed, holy-roller crowd that you think is steamrollering the country you want this woman to die because Christian conservatives want her to live. And, since you don’t like Christian conservatives so much you want them to be disappointedYou want them to find out what it’s like to not get away with everything they want just because they’re Christians” (March 23 radio show).
I listened and watched several “Christian stations.” “God wants Terri’s tube re-plugged,” the preachers averred. Digital technology–radio and TV attacking science and reason! After watching one pious televangelist, I thought of country singer Ray Stevens: “Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on His Television Show?”
For much of the media, however, unplugging Schiavo meant getting one of its own feeding tube inserted. Another gore-blood-death issue to exploit! Following the jury’s “not guilty” verdict in the Robert Blake murder case, editors felt downright unplugged from an on-going source of nutrition. Michael Jackson’s child molestation trial continues to provide daily media protein, but with the winding down of the Schiavo case, newsroom bosses worried about what vicarious “news item” next would draw the attention of its audience.
Stories of mass deaths in Africa, millions who die from lack of proper drinking water, nutrition and basic medicine do not concern mass media or “real Christians.”
The media prefers dime store dramas with pictures of crowds holding “She’s still alive” posters or signs defaming Michael Schiavo, the villain in the modern Christian epic. Did he abuse Terri and cause her death, as the “save Terry at all costs” gang allege?
The pious, life-loving Randall Terry became a spokesman for Terri’s parents. One of his associates, according to Paul Krugman, murdered an abortion doctor (NY Times March 29). This Christian love pertains only to those who do not have the ability to think sinful thoughts: the unborn and the brain dead. Those who can envision sin get what’s coming to them from the Bushes and Tom DeLay as soon as they’re out of the womb: not a penny of help from the government and execution at an early age if they misbehave.
DeLay wanted to keep Terry alive but cut off Medicaid funds that would pay for her medical care. As Governor of Texas, Bush didn’t even read the appeals of the 152 people executed during his reign. He extols others to love the unborn while advocating drastic reductions for the post-born. A highly selective “love of life!”
My friends smile over the language of anti-evolutionism and other ultra “Christian” rhetoric. They study the principles of law and science; subjects worthy of human development.
“How can you listen to those garbage mouths on the radio?” colleagues inquire. As people of reason, they don’t see why millions hate them in the name of Christ for believing in the scientific method and accepting the complexities of the human condition. Watch out! These “Christians” have amassed enormous media power and have become vital to the electoral success of Republicans. Their seemingly insane agenda should not be dismissed.
SAUL LANDAU teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University, where he is the director of Digital Media Programs and International Outreach, and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He is also the co-author of “Assassination on Embassy Row,” which is about the Letelier and Moffitt murders. His new book is The Business of America.