Were all these Democrats and Republicans acting cynically? I don't think so. Take Sen. Tom Harkin, a liberal Democrat who worked for the measure. Harkin's interest arose from his long concern for the disabled -- he was a chief sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act -- and his desire to protect the rights of the incapacitated. Were his views informed by his Roman Catholic faith? I don't know, but what if they were? Legislators are under no obligation to have moral principles entirely divorced from religious beliefs. I can't answer for every member who voted for the bill or against it. But the quality of the debate suggests to me that large majorities on both sides were acting out of reasoned moral conviction more than political calculation.
Reasoned moral conviction: That is one of our national strengths. George Weigel, in his new book, "The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God," argues that without strong religious beliefs, tolerance degenerates into indifference, mere "skepticism and relativism," which fail to provide a reason that people should be tolerant and civil. I would broaden Weigel's argument by saying, "without strong religious or moral beliefs," but his larger point is well taken. Look at Christopher Caldwell's recent accounts in the Weekly Standard of how multiculturalist tolerance in the Netherlands and Sweden has made them helpless against separate subsidized communities of Muslims who refuse to practice tolerance themselves and seek to destroy the tolerant society around them. A society that believes only in skepticism ultimately has no means of self-defense. On the Schiavo issue, most members of Congress, on both sides, were not indifferent but acted on moral convictions in a difficult situation. They were trying to do what they believed was right. They deserve respect, not contempt.