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March 24, 2005

The Left and Terri Schiavo

In an open letter to progressive bloggers, Dave exhorts us to, well, see the forest in the Schiavo case.

You're nitpicking details and ignoring the larger narrative. They are "trying to save this poor woman." They are "defending this poor woman's family." Meanwhile, you are pointing out discrepancies in the finer details. "What about her husband?" you ask when they talk about her parents. "She can't feel pain," you say, when they accuse Democrats of starving her to death. How many people hear that they are trying to save this poor woman? Everyone. How many people, over time, will pay attention to the nitpicking details?

...

We're arguing the details of their lies instead of reaching the broader, general public with a larger narrative that reinforces public acceptance of the benefits of underlying Progressive values.

I'm inclined to agree. But you know how we got into this position? Because we ignored this case for too long. We were vaguely aware that Jeb Bush was raising some kind of Orc army in Florida. But we didn't give it much thought.

The "leftist murderer" meme predated any sustained progressive interest in the Schiavo case. In retrospect it seems obvious that the right hand-picked the helpless Terri Schiavo as a vector for their hate. Her case was perfect: tragic and doomed. For now, she's a good excuse to pontificate about the sanctity of life. Soon, her death will be conveniently blamed on murderous liberals.

In the spirit of seeing the forest, here are some plot points for the larger narrative:

1. Liberals are the champions of the weak. The weakest members of our society have as much right to make decisions about their medical care as the strongest, loudest bullies. That's why liberals support the rule of law and the integrity of the judicial process.

2. Liberals know that it's wrong to ram a tube into an unconsenting woman's body. But "no" doesn't mean no in the culture of life. Listen to how the pro-tubers talk about Terri. They just know that she's asking for it. They swear it's for her own good. She said "no," but she didn't really mean it. There is a slippery slope here, but it's not the slope from refusing medical treatment to the wholesale elimination of the lame. It's the slope that starts with "erring on the side of life" and slips towards state oversight of biological functions (especially the reproductive ones).

3. Florida isn't a slave state. It is supremely offensive to suggest that Michael Schiavo should give Terri back to her parents. He's not Terri's owner, he's her husband and her guardian. There is clear and convincing evidence that Terri didn't want a tube. There is no evidence that she'd want to be intubated, divorced, and shipped home to mommy, daddy and their creepy cabal of quacks and itinerant friars. Notice the subtext: Terri's desire to control her own body doesn't matter, nice girls sacrifice their dignity to spare the feelings of others.

4. The Schiavo case is about basic fairness. It's about how everyone ought to play by the same rules. No special dispensations, no do-overs, no trials by legislation for the favored few.

5. If anyone needs a sister Souljah moment, it's the pro-tube faction. If the Schindlers are decent people, they will distance themselves from the murderous zealots who threaten the lives of judges. However, nothing in their previous behavior leads me to expect that they will stand on principle. They are more than happy to ruin Michael Schiavo's life with unsubstantiated rumors of abuse, and even attempted murder. They care so little for their daughter's memory or her marriage that they are willing to use the intimate details of her marriage as ammunition, they schemed to parade her contorted body before Congress.

6. The left stands for reason over emotion. Principle over passion. Compassion over cheap sentimentality. And most importantly, for universality. We care about making the system better for everyone. The Schindlers have elevated themselves to the status of holy victims. They are narcissists who believe that their anguish takes precedence over all moral and legal principles. Progressives want to protect Medicare so that all Americans have health care options. We recoil at the Texas "Futile Care Act" because we believe that intimate medical decisions should be made by patients, their families, and caring doctors, not by cash-strapped institutions. And unlike the right wing, we're willing to put our money where our mouth is.

7. The left has the audacious pro-life attitude that healthcare and medical research are more important than tax cuts for the rich. Gawdy spectacle is cheap, but saving lives is expensive. On the left we care about life beyond reality TV.

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Left and Terri Schiavo:

» Storming the Hospice from Kieran Healy's Weblog
Bloggers with more patience than me have been dealing with the tragic story of Terri Schiavo. Lindsay Beyerstein has been... [Read More]

» Reason and Compassion from Fallenmonk
It boils down to valuing reason over emotion and recognizing that there are practical limits to everything. [Read More]

» What She Said about Terri Schiavo from Grubbykid.com :: Links
What She Said about Terri Schiavo... [Read More]

» Schiavo from The Great Whatsit
I keep wanting to post on the Schiavo case and the role of emotionality in American politics and culture, but for now let me just direct you to these spot-on comments about how liberals should be talking about the issue. "Jeb Bush was raising some kin... [Read More]

» http://WWW.markarkleiman.com/archives/_/2005/03/.php from Mark A. R. Kleiman
Terri Schiavo shouldn't be "given back to her parents" because she isn't property. [Read More]

» Her body, her self from Mark A. R. Kleiman
Terri Schiavo shouldn't be "given back to her parents" because she isn't property. [Read More]

» Her body, her self from Mark A. R. Kleiman
Terri Schiavo shouldn't be "given back to her parents" because she isn't property. [Read More]

» Terri Schiavo Is Not An Object from Agnosticism/Atheism
A common question we hear from the Christian Right is why not just give Terri Schiavo to her parents, the Schindlers. Michael Schiavo won't have to deal with her, the Schindlers get to keep her, and everyone will be happy.... [Read More]

» Her body, her self from Mark A. R. Kleiman
Terri Schiavo shouldn't be "given back to her parents" because she isn't property. [Read More]

» Persons, corpses, and toasters from Mark A. R. Kleiman
Can it really be true that Steven Landsburg can't tell the difference? [Read More]

» Persons, corpses, and toasters from Mark A. R. Kleiman
Can it really be true that Steven Landsburg can't tell the difference? [Read More]

» Persons, corpses, and toasters from Mark A. R. Kleiman
Can it really be true that Steven Landsburg can't tell the difference? [Read More]

Comments

Bush & co might have thought that they're tossing the evangelicals a bone, while inadvertantly they're tossing the American people a clue.

Splendidly put.

Perfect.

Who are some representative members of the "PC fringe element?" Just wondering.

I don't know to what degree the American left needs a larger narrative here, but assuming it does, yours is a bad one to use. Your first point, championing the weak, is bad in this context because of the portrayal of Terri as one of the weak. Your second point is better, although slippery slope arguments generally don't work, especially when the end of the slope, a ban on abortion, is supported by many Americans, and in fact anti-choicers outnumber pro-tubers. Your third point is good, but relating it to "Florida isn't a slave state" is bad PR. Your fourth and fifth points are good as counterattacks, but not as arguments in themselves; notice how pro-tubers not only smear Michael Schiavo but also talk lengthily about why Terri is still alive and revivable. Your sixth and seventh points are the only ones that can relate to some broader agendas without backfiring.

What I think will make the best PR for the anti-tube position is saying again and again that Terri is dead. On the one hand, leftists should explain that although she never said explicitly that she would not want a feeding tube, if she had known this could happen she would have. On the other, they need to dehumanize what is left by explaining as concisely as possible that cortical destruction means that there are no memories and there's no personality that can suffer.

If you want to frame this as part of a larger agenda, use something like "we care for the living rather than for the dead." It's short, it's compressible, almost anyone you could ever convince agrees with it, and with enough hammering on the fact that Terri is dead, people will easily connect that to pulling the plug.

'purge the Democrats of the PC fringe element

Dude, I think some perspective is in order here. The "PC fringe element" has ZERO influence over the modern Democratic Party. The radical right wingnuts get a special weekend session of Congress and the President flying back to Washington to sign off on an unprecedented piece of legislation devoted exclusively to a single case.'

Earth to Thad: Why the hell do you think so many college educated moderates decided to trust Bush? Because they'e lived under the noxious thumbs of PC Elitists and Feminazis?
C'mon, if you're gonna rip the wickedry on the other side you have to make sure your side is clean. It's not. The arts are also dominated by toxic Leftists- which are wholly different from true liberals in a libertarian live and let live sense. DAN

Dan Schneider's point:

Toxic Leftists make dirty art with NEA money.

Religious fundamentalists are at your deathbed telling you the only godly way to die is in the Iraqi desert, digging for WMD's while sending Iraqi women back to the dark ages.

I'll take the dirty art.
Seriously, you got any links?

Decnavda:

The left stands for reason over emotion.

Which means reigning in the more radical evironmentalists, anti-biotech food crusaders, etc. Neither the right nor left monopolize whacko irrationalist politics; but the right is making a bid to do so.

Dan, it's obvious that most Americans view the left as being dominated by hyper-PC elements and cultural/racial/gender extremists. The issue is whether this perception is true, and I don't know that it is. The hyper-PC people are often political moderates who try not to offend anyone; the radicals and the cultural separatists care less about whether people say "black" or "African-American" and more about forming a black/female/homosexual/Hispanic/lower-class identity.

I for one am glad that Democrats and other liberals remained silent on this case for so long. The religious right has hoisted itself on its own petard (and how often does one get to use that phrase)! Most people cherish the thought of dying with dignity, even Evangelicals. The transparent shenanigans of the uber-Christian Republicans in Congress have revealed their true nature. And moderate Republicans are not happy. At least our nation's judiciary is still relatively impervious to political pressure. The GOP really misread its constituency on this one. I feel very badly for Michael Schiavo, but he is one brave guy to stand up to so much malicious aggression for so long. Hats off to him!

If I was one of the judges, I'd just say, look, we're trying to send Ms. Schiavo to a better place. There's a chance she'll end up in Heaven in a non-vegetative state. There's also a chance she'd end up in Hell in her current condition, which would be unfortunate, but still.

If I was one of the judges, I'd just say, look, we're trying to send Ms. Schiavo to a better place. There's a chance she'll end up in Heaven in a non-vegetative state. There's also a chance she'd end up in Hell in her current condition, which would be unfortunate, but still.

reigning=reining
moron

Dan, you are seriously deluded if you think that "toxic Leftists" in the arts have any influence whatsoever on Democratic party policies.

And I have serious doubts about the sincerity of anyone who uses phrases like "under the noxious thumbs of PC Elitists and Feminazis."

Well, this a very unintelligent post full of hypocrisy and vanity. The general rule in reading it is that the charge applies most accurately to the one leveling the charge.


In Vietnam it was a metaphorical lie that we "Were burning the villiage in order to save it."

Here the author does not appreciate metaphor.

Well, this a very unintelligent post full of hypocrisy and vanity. The general rule in reading it is that the charge applies most accurately to the one leveling the charge.

Paul Deignan hereby accuses himself of hypocrisy and vanity.


Which means reigning in the more radical evironmentalists, anti-biotech food crusaders, etc. Neither the right nor left monopolize whacko irrationalist politics; but the right is making a bid to do so.

So rather than kicking these people out, we just let the right have them. Fine with me.

Herbert Browne-
Sorry, but your communitarian ideas are best supported by the irrationalist Contenental philosophers. "On Liberty" by John Stuart Mill is a much better guild to where progressivism should head. The next progressive movement should find inspiration in the modern analytic political philosophers such as John Rawls and Philippe Van Parijs.

There's a LOT more than just "coming up with a narrative" however. The Right has a funded network of "infrastructure" organizations.

Hear hear. While I agree wholeheartedly with what Lindsay says above, all the frames and master narratives in the world won't mean bupkes if we're consistently outgunned in sheer terms of resources.

I also can't help but be bemused by the fact that this thread has followed the tried but true pattern of slipping into a discussion of who the Left does or does not need to "kick out." The circular firing squad remains a distinguishing characteristic of the American left, and we're all the worse off for it.

"tried and true," that is

Uncle Kvetch -
The right kicked out Pat Buchannan and the paleocons, and that seems to have worked out for them.

You kick ass Lindsey. Excellent points all. Your writing is most impressive, but I prefer to take another step back.

The Republicans control the public discourse at this time, and probably for years to come. We can't prevent them from talking about Schaivo, but we can chose to talk unceasingly about Sun Hudson. A six month old child put to death on Bush's orders. That's what the subject should be when we get a word in edgewise.

When you talk about Hudson, talk about it by pointing out the hypocrisy of Bush's save Terri and "prolife" agenda. Hudson had thanatophoric dysplasia and the case was medically futile. Bush and the "pro-life" movement would ban abortion to force a woman carrying such a child to take the pregnancy to birth and then either refuse treatment or force withdrawal of life support - because they respect the sanctity of all life (except those who dont have the funds to pay for it).

Lindsay

Let me politely push all of this political talk off of the table for a minute.

What happens to me if I write a living will or similar document (whatever may be required in the State that I reside in later on) and request two key provisions (below)?

1. Don't keep me alive with tubes and other machinery if I am unable to demonstrate any form of mental awareness, however suppressed; but also don't let me starve to death.

2. If there is any expectation that future technology can repair my body, and if suspended animation is available, suspend my body for future repair.

If you are the executor of my living will, how do you insure that I will not be starved to death? It really doesn't matter to me whether I am aware that I am being starved at the time it occurs, by the way. I just don't like that approach. Period.

And why can't you direct the medical authorities to end my life in the same manner that we end the lives of our cherished pets at vet clinics? (because it's illegal...at the moment)

If I were to starve my dog to death, would he know it? If it was well known that I was doing this, I would be arrested and charged with animal cruelty, and my dog would be taken away from me.

We know that vets don't intentionally starve animals to death.

So why do humans do it?

Is this the best approach that we intent to offer one another when we are severly disabled or mentally impaired (beyond repair)?


Thank you so much for your post on what the Left missed in the Schiavo case.

I liked it so much I made that post (and that of "Seeing The Forest") the main topic in my post today on my homepage.

I hope you can check it out!

Sorry I'm not sure what happened, but my post for some reason is two posts up under the name "Movie guy"

I forgot to leave the URL for my site in case you wanted to check out the postI made concerning your and "Seeing The Forest"'s post:

http://www.xanga.com/home.aspx?user=theantidesi101

Have a nice day!

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