A friend popped into the virtual world I inhabit the other day and complained about being unable to escape the face of Terri Schiavo, what with every channel on TV being filled with her vacant stare.
Whew, I thought. Thank you, TiVO.
I watch relatively little TV these days, and what I do watch tends to be aggressively pre-screened and narrowly selected: movie DVDs, mostly, along with some Daily Show, some What Not to Wear (the Stacy-and-Clinton version; Trinny and Suzanna are too catty for my tastes, and the Cinderella storyline doesn’t work for me when ‘after’ looks as bad as before, at least to my American eyes), some Letterman, some Ellen, a little basketball. Most of the time, the big, stupid media obsessions are like moths beating their wings futilely against the closed window of my inner life.
But the Terri Schiavo story, thanks to the spectacle of the Torture Party in Congress suspending the business of the nation so they can address the issue, and Fearless Leader actually interrupting his Crawford vacation to rush back to Washington (something he couldn’t be bothered to do even for grave threats of imminent al Qaeda attack during the late summer of 2001), has managed to burst my bubble of isolation.
Okay. Since this has been deemed by the Master Control Program to be the story that will consume my attention, what am I to make of it?
The best summing-up I’ve found is this one from Obsidian Wings’ hilzoy: Terri Schiavo. Among the unanticipated ironies I found there: The woman whose forced feeding has become a national obsession suffered her original cardiac arrest due to a chemical imbalance that was the result of bulimia. With the gallons of ink being spilled on this story, why has that fact so far escaped my notice?
For more on Schiavo’s medical condition, there’s Doctor Rivka of Respectful of Otters: Terri Schiavo, part I: The medical post.
The Republican machine that is attempting to raise political capital with this issue is being blatantly, cynically dishonest. The Christian right, those red-state values voters, believe they are fostering a “culture of life” in calling for the tube to be stuck back down Schiavo’s throat. They believe, based on some heavily edited video, that the random grimaces, blinks, and grins being produced by her reptilian hindbrain are possibly a response to her mother’s face, a spoken word. They believe there’s a chance that the person who was Terri Schiavo is trapped inside there, somewhere, and that her immoral, godless husband is trying to kill that good woman.
In that belief, they display a faith-based morality that is a credit to their upbringing. They also display a crushing, abject ignorance. It’s the same sort of ignorance that let Bush conflate Iraq with al Qaeda in the run-up to war, and to now be hailing his own fabulous “success” in bringing democracy to the Middle East.
So the Christian right has an excuse: They don’t know any better. But the Republicans grandly posturing as defenders of Terri in order to curry favor with the ignorant have no such excuse. They know what they’re doing.
As do we in the reality-based community. We know exactly what they’re doing. They’re pandering for votes, in the process ignoring the duty they have to lead the country wisely and thoughtfully.
It’s a sign of the Last Days, I think. Not necessarily in the Biblical-prophecy sense, but in the Fall-of-Rome sense. When leaders stop trying to make capable, wise decisions, and devolve instead to offering increasingly blatant bread and circuses, the end of empire is not far off.
Maybe these folks have it right: The coming of deindustrial society: A practical response. Maybe Bush is really just a symptom of a larger disease, a small manifestation of our collective denial of the doom foreseen thirty years ago in The Limits to Growth.
One last irony before I go: hilzoy explains that the Terry Schiavo case is really about incompetence, in the medical/legal sense. Her capacity to make decisions is gone, long gone, but her body lives on. What process will we, as a society, use to reach decisions on her behalf? And now she becomes the poster-girl for the Bush presidency, which is itself a monument to incompetence of another sort. Bush the legacy, the indifferent student whose whole career has been a serial upward failure, aggressively denying his own inadequacy, daring you to find fault with him, while making bonehead mistake after bonehead mistake. And we, via our collective political will, putting the feeding tube back down his throat, keeping the illusion alive.
When I tell myself that my country can be saved, that catastrophe can be averted, am I praying for a miracle that can’t possibly come? Am I hoping for the cerebrospinal fluid that has replaced my country’s cerebral cortex to magically turn itself back into a functioning democracy? Do I honestly expect that the Tom Delay Congress, the William Rehnquist Supreme Court, and (especially) the George Bush/Karl Rove presidency, are going to spontaneously morph back into a government of, by, and for the people?