Thursday, March 24

More Schiavo nonsense, or Theocrats going nowhere

As Christopher Shays, one of five House Republicans who voted against the bill to allow the Terri Schiavo case to be snatched from Florida state jurisdiction and moved to federal court, put it: "This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy. There are going to be repercussions from this vote." A CBS News poll yesterday found that 82 percent of the public was opposed to Congress and the president intervening in this case. 82 percent. That number makes Reagan's victory over Dukakis look humble.

As one disgusted Times reader suggested in an e-mail: "Americans ought to send Bill Frist their requests: 'Dear Dr. Frist: Please watch the enclosed video and tell us if that mole on my mother's cheek is cancer. Does she need surgery?'"

A lawyer for the state told the judge that the three branches of the government are equal.

"That is indeed true," Judge Greer replied, "but the executive is certainly not superior.

We must wait for the court's ruling on whether the relics of a Hollywood relic breach the separation of church and state. Either way, it's clear that one principle, so firmly upheld by DeMille, has remained inviolate no matter what the courts have to say: American moguls, snake-oil salesmen and politicians looking to score riches or power will stop at little if they feel it is in their interests to exploit God to achieve those ends. While sometimes God racketeers are guilty of the relatively minor sin of bad taste - witness the crucifixion-nail jewelry licensed by Mel Gibson - sometimes we get the demagoguery of Father Coughlin or the big-time cons of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker.

The religio-hucksterism surrounding the Schiavo case makes DeMille's Hollywood crusades look like amateur night. This circus is the latest and most egregious in a series of cultural shocks that have followed Election Day 2004, when a fateful exit poll question on "moral values" ignited a take-no-prisoners political grab by moral zealots. During the commercial interruptions on "The Ten Commandments" last weekend, viewers could surf over to the cable news networks and find a Bible-thumping show as only Washington could conceive it. Congress was floating such scenarios as staging a meeting in Ms. Schiavo's hospital room or, alternatively, subpoenaing her, her husband and her doctors to a hearing in Washington. All in the name of faith.

The same Mr. Bush who couldn't be bothered to interrupt his vacation during the darkening summer of 2001, not even when he received a briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," flew from his Crawford ranch to Washington to sign Congress's Schiavo bill into law. All this is happening while polls consistently show that at most a fifth of the country subscribes to the religious views of those in the Republican base whom even George Will, speaking last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," acknowledged may be considered "extremists."