WASHINGTON -- When the case of Terri Schiavo came to Washington in what appears to be the last stages of that poor woman's life, it evoked passion contrasting with the usual political play-acting in the nation's capital. The intensity aroused by the Republican-controlled Congress trying to intervene was demonstrated in two instances last Saturday.
In Texas, Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards worked hard to find an airline seat from Houston to Washington for the Sunday session of the House to consider the Schiavo affair. Normally a faithful follower of the Democratic line, he supported the Republican bill interposing federal court jurisdiction.
In Washington, I was engaged during a Saturday night dinner party in debate at a level of intensity I had not seen since the bitter '60s and '70s. My dining companions, mostly mainstream Washington journalists a generation younger than I, were passionately opposed to the congressional intervention.
These disparate activities suggest crosscurrents that do not fit conventional politics. This is not the cold, analytical debate over Social Security. Involved here is a private decision to take a life. Debate about abortion has turned to private decisions taking the lives of indisputable human beings -- increasingly important as life and death questions are posed about an aging population.
The intensity was brought home to me at the Saturday dinner party. A fellow journalist asked me what I thought about the congressional intervention. When I responded that I approved, several colleagues asked how in the world I, of all people, could approve of federal intervention in local affairs. I told them I did not care about that issue but wondered why they were so anxious to end Terri Schiavo's life. They responded that Republicans in Congress were only interested in politics. I had not engaged in such a heated debate with colleagues since the Vietnam War.
These and other critics of saving Schiavo are in the unusual position of citing rights of her husband (whose commonlaw wife has bore him two children) and even states' rights. On ABC's "This Week" Sunday, moderator (and former Clinton aide) George Stephanopoulos asked: "Isn't this a classic case of states' rights?"
The harsh views expressed in a private social situation Saturday were spelled out openly over CNN Monday morning by the network's resident curmudgeon, veteran television journalist Jack Cafferty: "It's all about politics. It has nothing to do with Terri Schiavo. This is all about the abortion debate and right to life and the right wing of the Republican Party. And it's all cloaked in some, you know, mantra that says, 'Oh, we're worried about this woman's life.' Baloney!"