By Joseph Dolman, Newsday
At the moment, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas and Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee must feel like geniuses. The Republican brain-trust has managed to trot out a weapon in the culture wars that leaves the sad-sack Democrats thoroughly baffled. While half of me admires the creative deviousness of the trick, the other half is repulsed.
By daring to play tug-of-war with Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, the GOP has promised to turn life into a living hell for some of the more thoughtful Democrats on the planet.
The Democrats' mission now is to find an effective way to fight back - before they get caught in new and still more outrageous traps. For all the evil genius of Frist and DeLay, I think there might be a way ultimately to beat their cynical tactics.
That's because Congress' escapade last weekend will prove disastrous.
Never mind that the GOP now appears to endorse as a matter of policy government meddling in a family's private matters. And never mind the wacky spectacle of our whole elected government hurrying back to Washington to vote on a much-litigated medical issue that affects one - and only one - unfortunate Florida woman.
At bottom this episode was about something else. It was a sop to the religious right. It was meant to showcase the awe that Republicans supposedly harbor deep within their hearts for a "culture of life."
The congressional maneuver left Democrats with one of two choices. They could go along with the show like a roomful of sullen hostages. (Almost half of them did just that when the House voted early Monday morning.) Or they could take the route of Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and inveigh with eloquence (and futility) against Congress' intrusion into Schiavo's case.
There's just one catch here. It just so happens that Nadler represents Manhattan's Upper West Side - a swath of ancient liberalism that has somehow survived the ruins of time like the contents of Tutankhamen's tomb. No 2006 challenger is likely to make Nadler explain why he voted for a "culture of death" over a "culture of life."
But other Democrats who voted against DeLay and Frist won't be so lucky. As Frist and DeLay well know, the complex answers to questions like this are impossible to address in a sound bite. All their guy has to do is say that he's for life while the other guy must fight his way out of a swamp: What is life? What is death? When is it right to pull out feeding tubes? Long story short: Gotcha! At least that's one story.
I think it's also possible that Frist and DeLay have seriously misread their Red State base. For one thing, the pollsters and political scientists I know say the Schiavo case is unusual. Even in the South, voters could ultimately resent the intrusion of zealots into family affairs.
"The issue is a risky one," says Utica-based pollster John Zogby. "Who emerges the winner?" Just seeing the matter debated makes most people cringe. And though the Schiavo case might rev the religious right into spasms of political fervor, I can't imagine it creating waves of excitement beyond that.
I base this notion in part on personal experience. I grew up in the piney woods of East Texas - where the political conservatism runs about as deep as the red-clay soil.
Yet in the Jacksonville Daily Progress of Cherokee County, my former home, last Sunday is an editorial that lambastes the Congress for the Schiavo mess.
"Government has no business legislating the relationship between a husband and wife," wrote managing editor Larry Krantz in an unsigned piece. He went on to say that the "right to death with dignity is something everyone should be afforded when that time comes. If anything, the state should protect that right, rather than forcing a family to stay in the present when it's clearly time for her husband and the families involved to move on."
Oh, yeah. There's also an ABC poll, out Monday, that shows Americans support the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube by a margin of 63 percent to 28 percent. Bottom line: I know it's tough, Democrats. But come out of your bunkers. You haven't lost this one yet.
By Joseph Dolman, Newsday
How anyone can claim Michael's relationship with Terri after 1993 was that of 'husband and life' rather than 'owner' and 'slave' is beyond me.