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A last abandonment of principle
by Bonnie Erbe
Scripps Howard News Service


March 21, 2005

The next time you hear a Republican who voted in favor of the "Prolong the Schiavo" misery bill stumping for states' rights, one word and one word only should come to mind: "prevaricator." Of course, Democrats lie, too. But more often than not, they make the politically unacceptable mistake of sticking to partisan principles.

When I was coming of age, Republicans stood for two things that made the party appealing to me. The first issue was states' rights (to wit, giving local government control over local issues) and the second issue was a balanced budget. Since the rightward lurch of the GOP, members have dropped both stands with such wanton abandon as to make the party unrecognizable.

Make no mistake. Partisan zealotry on the Schiavo matter has so much less to do with principle than with political gain. As Congress met in a highly unusual Palm Sunday session to insert itself into the Schiavo case (that in and of itself should have been enough to insult the pious among us), some smart aleck on Capitol Hill leaked a revealing memo to the media.

The memo exposed the true motivation for federalization of the Schiavo case. Distributed to Republican senators, the memo described the situation as a "great political issue" that could help the GOP with Christian conservatives in the 2006 midterm elections. Question: Does that crowd need any more motivation than the GOP has already provided? No wonder President Bush flew in from Texas to sign the bill.

But with impunity, Bush and his fellow GOP strategists not only forgot but decimated traditional Republican roots in so doing.

Conservatives used to support local control. Ever since segregation was threatened in the South, conservatives caterwauled about activist judges and how big, mean, overarching Uncle Sam had no right to intervene in matters of local control.

Nothing, I repeat, nothing, is more sacredly local than health and safety issues. Conservatives know, appreciate and vote on this issue.

For example, who but local legislators pass laws limiting abortion rights? And who would question their authority to do so? No one.

Terry Schiavo, dependent as she is on medical assistance to stay alive, is the incarnation of a local health matter. The Florida legislature got involved, and a Florida judge resolved the matter. Federal intervention in the Schiavo case is a flagrant violation of states' rights for political expediency. The only other recent case that comes close (but still misses Schiavo by many, many miles) is the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overrule the Florida Supreme Court in the 2000 elections.

That said, there may yet be some good news coming from the Republican decision to keep torturing Terry Schiavo alive, prisoner that she is in her own inoperative body. The good news is, the American public, unlike Schiavo, is waking up and noticing.

An ABC News poll, as reported by ABC News on its Web site, revealed the following, "Americans broadly and strongly disapprove of federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, with sizable majorities saying Congress is overstepping its bounds for political gain. ... The public, by 63 percent-28 percent, supports the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube, and by a 25-point margin opposes a law mandating federal review of her case."

Normally poll-conscious conservatives may be spending too much time reading the numbers from heavily evangelical districts in the South, thereby skewing not only their political judgment but their principles as well.

For the longest time, my evangelical friends have told me they feel trampled on by a too-liberated society that pollutes their televisions, computers, highway signs and you-name-it media with highly sexualized, immoral images. They've complained for so long and loudly enough, they've managed to reverse the rules.

They are now imposing their (some would say fantasy-based) moral values on the rest of us. And we're getting pretty sick of it. Perhaps this last abandonment of principle will set in motion the angry public reaction they've been flirting with for all too long.


Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service.
E-mail bonnieerbe(at)

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