Conduct unbecoming

In their Weekly Standard piece on “The politics of the Schiavo case,” Jeff Bell and Frank Cannon apprehend a dynamic that belies the poll results with which we’ve been inundated:

It was a substantive policy victory for forces opposed to the right to life (it doesn’t seem accurate, in this instance, to describe these forces as “pro-choice”), but it may be a victory they come to regret. For one thing, in content it was far more an extension of the implications of legalized abortion than of assisted suicide.
Of the whole array of anti-life agenda items, assisted
suicide receives the greatest level of support in public opinion polling, undoubtedly because it is seen as the least coercive. But in the end game of the Terri Schiavo case, the longstanding assertion by her husband that Terri would welcome what was being done to her seemed at most a formality. The courts all but made explicit that the killing was not really about her wishes but only about those of her husband and legal guardian. The implication that Terri’s fate was to be the choice of the husband, and of him alone, followed the form of abortion law, which puts the choice in the hands of the mother, and of no one else.
This matters because abortion, not assisted suicide, is the mother of all American social issues. We say American, and not Russian or Chinese or British, because it is the American founding document that guarantees the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and asserts as its only authority that of the Creator–the authority of Nature and of Nature’s God. If you had to pick one reason that there is a pro-life movement in America and not Europe, it is the nature of our founding.
Coming on the heels of the conviction of Scott Peterson for double homicide–of his wife and of his unborn son–the Schiavo case is the latest of a series of public debates and public events in which political momentum has significantly shifted to the pro-life side. If you doubt this, try comparing the public debate on abortion in the election year of 1992 with that of 2004. In 1992, it was Republican politicians and candidates who tried to downplay the abortion issue. In 2004 and today, it is Democrats who would rather talk about anything else, and are taking instruction on how to deflect the issue in their campaign schools.

The Bell/Cannon essay appears in the Standard’s April 4 issue, which is largely devoted to the Schiavo case. The Standard has made all of the Schiavo pieces available online.
David Brooks also devotes his New York Times column to the Schiavo case this morning: “Morality and reality.” In this column Brooks, like Bell and Cannon, assesses the contending forces. On one side are the social conservatives who believe in the intrinisic value of life. The weakness of this view, according to Brooks, is its failure to discriminate among “modes of living.”
On the other side are social liberals who exalt quality of life. Brooks finds this view “morally thin”: “Once you say that it is up to individuals or families to draw their own lines separating life from existence, and reasonable people will differ, then you are taking a fundamental issue out of the realm of morality and into the realm of relativism and mere taste.”
Brooks finds both views or arguments “serious but flawed”:

The socially conservative argument has tremendous moral force, but doesn’t accord with the reality we see when we walk through a hospice. The socially liberal argument is pragmatic, but lacks moral force.

I wonder if one really needs to visit a hospice before one is confronted with the quandaries that, if one is so inclined, might cause one to wonder whether life per se is worthy of protection. I should think that quality of life is an argument that supports the termination of life far beyond the four corners of a hospice. Earlier in his column, Brooks strongly implies as much when he refers to the effective removal by social liberals of “a fundamental issue out of the realm of morality and into the realm of relativism and mere taste.”
I can understand, given the limitations of space, Brooks’s focus on the implications of the contending arguments. The absence of Schiavo’s husband, Schiavo’s parents or Schiavo’s brother from the calculus is nevertheless striking. The husband, on the one hand, and the parents and brother, on the other, are the proximate cause of the contending forces. Without either one, there would be no battle.
Brooks concludes with a kind of Clintonesque detachment in his reference to “that woman”: “No wonder many of us feel agonized this week, betwixt and between, as that poor woman slowly dehydrates.” The logic of Brooks’s column suggests that he is in the middle of the debate that will shortly come to an end. Is David Brooks, like Sweden during World War II, a neutral in the battle he observes? And isn’t the handwringing conduct unbecoming for a New York Times opinion columnist?
Thanks to RealClearPolitics for drawing my attention to the Bell/Cannon and Brooks pieces.


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