Where the Bough Breaks (Libertarians vs. Social Conservatives)

As I am pro-life, I am disturbed by the Terry Shiavo case. I think what gets me the most is the fact that the only legal means with which to end the life of this severely brain-damaged woman is to remove her feeding tube and starve and dehydrate her to death. If Ms. Schiavo was hooked to a machine that was the only thing keeping her heart and lungs beating, I would have less problem with turning the machine off, since Schiavo would be more clearly dead.

Then there is the fact that Schiavo signed no living will; that her parents are perfectly willing to take care of their daughter; that video footage shows her to be in somewhat less than a totally vegetative state.

I wasn’t going to comment on the Schiavo case. It’s not my family. It’s not my country. It seems unseemly to intrude upon others’ grief. But as this case is spilling out onto the Canadian blogosphere, I thought I’d weigh in. Because something interesting has happened in the United States now that congress tried to intervene. You see it in the Republican blogosphere.

Check out James DiBenedetto’s Eleven Day Empire and Jeff Durkin’s Kinshasa on the Potomac. Both of these bloggers (fine men both of them) are usually in close agreement when it comes to the Bush Administration’s foreign policy and their opinions on the Democratic Party. I argue with them, a lot. But on the Schiavo case, the two individuals broke apart:

From James DiBenedetto:

In that case, as everyone by now knows, Schiavo’s husband, a man who is accused of abusing her and who likely caused the injury that resulted in her brain damage, is trying to have her feeding tube removed, so she will starve to death, and so he can spend the remainder of her trust fund on himself and the woman he’s taken up and had two children by. And he’s got a Florida judge aiding and abetting him in this.

The courts have ruled against Terri and in favor of her murder again and again. At this point, Terri’s only hope is that the Florida legislature can get a law passed in time to save her. Failing that, what I’d frankly like to see is for Florida Governor Jeb Bush to dispatch a platoon of Florida National guard troops to defy the corrupt and wrong orders of the judges and defend Terri, and to put a bullet in the head of anyone who tries to remove Terri’s feeding tube.

From Jeff Durkin:

Should Congress and the Administration be involving themselves in an area that is covered by state law and is being handled by state organs? Should Congress be assuming that the husband, who has legal authority over his wife, is not fit to exercise that legal right? If that is the case, then why just in this case? Why not have Congress examine any number of life-and-death decisions being made on a daily basis by millions of Americans and police those to?

Is your child overweight, but do you insist on feeding him fatty foods? Do you smoke around your spouse? Do you drink too much, such that your health may be affected and therefore the economic well-being of your family? Why not have Congress make decisions for people in these and similar situations?

Okay, I’m exaggerating for effect; but we need to be careful about Congress overstepping its bounds, just because this ‘statistic’ has a face. Congress should not be overturning the functions of state courts and legislatures just because they want to get good press or because a particular case tugs at their heart-strings or whatever is the motivation.

This, folks, illustrates the stark difference between the libertarians and the social conservatives that form the unstable alliance that is the “conservative” movement these days. This is echoed by the concerns staunch Republicans like Christine Whitman have had over the direction their party has taken in tossing out such traditional conservative values as fiscal prudence, limited government, and states rights. On the basis of what has happened in the Schiavo case, some commentators have even suggested that the conservative movement is dead:

Process no longer matters to the right - after all they are on the side of the angels. Whether it is pork barrel spending, the Senate filibuster or federal intervention in a family dispute, modern conservatism knows no boundaries. The right is now intoxicated with power — process is for wimps.

When it comes to federal intervention on behalf of the disadvantaged, the conservative response is to leave it to the states and the “mediating institutions” of community and locality. However, when it involves pandering to the religious right, federal power in the pursuit of righteous aims is no vice.

Accusations on both sides have been flung fast and furious, and both sides have been quite unfair. Social conservatives have called their opponents murderers, the judges corrupt, and have convicted Schiavo’s husband of grave brutalities without benefit of a trial. Opponents have accused Schiavo’s defenders in congress of shameful political opportunism; a suggestion that this case is being taken up as a sopp to the religious right. But in the world of grey, there are few truly black hats, here.

Schiavo’s case isn’t as simple as James DiBenedetto makes it out. Balancing the video evidence of Terry Schiavo’s responsiveness is the fact that the footage is five years old, that Terry’s condition has deteriorated during that time, and that the parents have said they would be fighting this decision even if their daughter had signed a living will covering just this set of conditions. Despite this, Jim’s outrage over the Schiavo case is not about political opportunism. It comes from the heart. His and others’ motivations should not be blithely taken as such.

However, though I am profoundly disturbed by Schiavo’s case, and though I understand Jim’s outrage, I believe that Jeff Durkin is the one thinking rationally, here. Jeff is the one defending the wider process and advocating that the courts be allowed to do their job. Jim has implied corruption in the Florida courts, and is perfectly willing to tear up his belief in limited government because the results disagreed with him. Jeff speaks to a vision that tries to ensure the greatest liberties for the greatest number of people, without bias or favour. Social conservatives have followed this vision when it limited government influence in the economy, but they are tossing it out now that it has become inconvenient.

In other words, for social conservatives, the ends justify the means.

That’s a nasty slippery slope to find oneself beside when one isn’t thinking rationally, and the social conservatives are rejecting rational thinking, here. Left unchecked, this is bound to do far more damage to the American federation than the harm the social conservatives are struggling to undo.

I realize this case evokes a deep emotional response, but we have to take a step back and take a deep breath and calm ourselves before we change laws and alter the constitution. There is a reason why justice is blind, why the police have so many rules to follow and why vigilantism is outlawed. The process we have in place is designed to protect as many individuals as possible. The libertarians understand this, and this is why their disquiet over the conservative alliance is growing.

Further Reading

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