Terri

Matt Towery
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Posted: Mar 29, 2005 12:00 AM

I rarely devote two consecutive columns to the same issue. But the tragic case of Terri Schiavo needs some additional light shed upon it.

 First, the nation is wrong if it has the impression that Florida is some sort of strange beast whose footsteps are out of sync with the rest of America. Our InsiderAdvantage flash poll conducted late last week revealed that 65 percent of Floridians agreed with the court decisions not to order the reinsertion of Schiavo's feeding tube.

 A more far-reaching story remains what I touched on in my last column. The emergency congressional action two weekends ago that tried to save Schiavo's life could potentially have a boomerang political effect on the White House and the Republicans in Congress. My update is that the boomerang has come whizzing back even faster than expected.

 Many GOP members of Congress privately groused about being summoned back to Washington in the first place. Doubly annoying to them was that the special weekend session was convened to address an issue that both their philosophical and political guts told them was against many of their most basic Republican instincts.

 By the end of last week, the level of consternation among Republicans on Capitol Hill had grown. It had become painfully clear that much of the nation felt Congress had overreached in its actions.

 Even more frustrating to Republicans was the verbal beating that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was taking from fanatical, save Schiavo activists. They urged him to have state law enforcement officers storm Schiavo's hospice and take her into custody. They even accused both President George W. Bush and Jeb Bush of not helping at all!

 How absurd. The president flew back to Washington early from vacation to sign the eleventh-hour congressional bill (apparently, we now learn, against his own best instincts). And Gov. Bush used up every reasonable legal resource to save Schiavo, not to mention much of the political capital he had stored up with his GOP-dominated state legislature.

 The Bush brothers fell victim to the "no-good-deed-goes-unpunished" syndrome. With self-promotional characters liked longtime "Christian activist" Randall Terry leading the right-wing media assault on the Bushes, it's becoming clearer by the day that the Schiavo situation has spilled over the margins of decent political dissent, and is now at least partly in the province of some who have little regard for the basic rule of law.

 As I've said before, I'd like to see Florida legislation that specifically addresses an incapacitated or comatose person's lack of written instructions when questions of their life or death arise. Or perhaps new laws that deal with a spouse, such as Michael Schiavo, being able to hold the keys of life and death over a wife or husband, even as he or she has in essence started another family altogether.

 And yes, it enrages me that this woman is literally being starved to death right before her parents' eyes.

 But there remains the need to face issues like this one both creatively and calmly. The alternative is to act or speak under a spell of emotion only, even though you know a fit of indignant pique isn't going to change the final outcomes, but only draw more attention to yourself.

 Jeb Bush should be hailed for his intense political and legal efforts on behalf of Schiavo and her parents. He deserves at least equal praise for displaying the sound judgment it took not overstep the boundary of his executive authority. This helped preserve the integrity and workability of Florida's constitution and legal system.

 On the flip side, the GOP in Washington, D.C. has sustained a self-inflicted blow, perhaps temporary. What had been concerted action on virtually every important issue before them -- except maybe Social Security -- has now splintered.

 For the past several years, Republican congressmen in Washington and legislators in many states have controlled the lawmaking reins. They have operated in a top-down, our-way-or-the-highway style that is likely to spur the kind of mini-revolt against party leadership that happens from time to time.

 Rest assured there are plenty of GOP elected officials who are suddenly wondering if they are now appearing to be the party of big budgets, intervention and expansion of government power.

 The Terri Schiavo tragedy may serve as a turning point in how Republicans and other conservatives react to the issues of today -- and what may be their political success or lack of it tomorrow. 

 With a 45 percent approval rating, it's clear that President Bush will need the help of all Republicans to redirect GOP policy initiatives. Party loyalists now need to somehow regain the high ground of preserving the Constitution and restricting the role that government plays in our lives.

 Supporters of these concepts are the ones that comprise the critical "Republican base" that must be held together and energized for action -- not the Randall Terrys of the world.