A time of fear

Posted: Apr 08, 2005 12:00 AM

A favorite game in my house is called ?Piggyback Ride.? One of my boys hops on my back, and we attempt to frighten their mother, who convincingly calls out, ?Oh, I?m so scared.?

She?s just pretending.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman isn?t. He?s really frightened that conservatives ? may start killing liberals.

In a piece printed March 29, just two days before Terri Schiavo died, Krugman addressed her case. ?The desire to show respect for other people?s beliefs all too easily turns into denial,? he wrote. ?Nobody wants to talk about the threat posed by those whose beliefs include contempt for democracy itself.?

That?s an interesting take on this case. Who knew that the democratic majority had spoken? Oh, sure, there is polling data that show a majority of Americans agreed her feeding tube should have been removed. But polls aren?t votes, as John Kerry knows all too well.

In fact, Krugman confuses the action of one judge with the democratic will of the country. Keep in mind that just one Florida judge ruled the tube should be pulled; all the other courts merely let that ruling stand.

Krugman goes on to claim, ?Another thing that?s going on is the rise of politicians willing to violate the spirit of the law, if not yet the letter, to cater to the religious right.? Well, judges don?t write laws. Or, at least, they?re not supposed to. Judges are supposed to interpret the laws passed by legislators, a.k.a. ?politicians.?

As Krugman fears, they may write laws that cater to the religious right. But if that?s so terrible, well, those lawmakers still have to face voters and explain why they did what they did. Judges seldom have to explain their rulings to anyone.

As far as the ?spirit of the law? goes, well, the legislature passed the law. Its members certainly have a better sense of a law?s ?spirit? than any judge reading it does. That?s why it?s laughable when Krugman writes, ?Everyone knows about the attempt to circumvent the courts through ?Terri?s law.?? Yes, how dare those lawmakers, the ones who passed the laws the judge is interpreting, attempt to circumvent a judge?s reading of them.

Whether we agree or not, it?s the Florida legislature that exercises ?democracy.? And it did in 2003, writing a law that allowed Florida?s governor to have Schiavo?s tube reinserted. Personally, I get nervous when any legislature -- including Congress -- passes a law aimed specifically at one person. Tyranny can lie down that road.

But, like it or not, the Florida legislature?s action is far closer to democracy than any judge?s decision is. If the people of Florida disagree with their legislature or their governor over this case, they can boot those officials in the next election.
Let?s see if they do.

Krugman wraps up with the real point of his piece. ?America isn?t yet a place where liberal politicians, and even conservatives who aren?t sufficiently hard-line, fear assassination. But unless moderates take a stand against the growing power of domestic extremists, it can happen here.?

What flawless logic. If we hadn?t starved a particular woman in Florida to death, every liberal politician could have been at risk of being murdered. Krugman is engaged in a clever attempt to deflect attention away from the death of one particular woman by bringing up the frightening specter of the future deaths of unnamed prominent people.

Speaking of death, let?s play a thought experiment. What if, instead of pulling Terri Schiavo?s feeding tube, Judge George Greer or her husband Michael had walked into her hospice room on March 18 and injected her with a lethal dose of morphine.

For Terri, the outcome would be the same, although she certainly would have been spared needless suffering. However, for the injector, the outcome would be much different. He?d probably be in jail today, charged with murder.

To review: A woman?s only source of food and water was shut off until she died. And, because a judge ordered it, it?s all nice and legal.

Everyone is against killing, even -- and in this case, especially -- the people Krugman calls ?extremists.? They were the ones who wanted to keep feeding Terri. It?s the person he considers a non-extremist -- Judge Greer -- who directly caused Terri Schiavo?s death.

Liberal politicians need not fear for their lives. Unless, that is, they get sick and require a feeding tube. In that case, it?ll be conservative ?extremists,? not the Paul Krugman?s of the world, who are most likely to fight to keep them alive. How ironic.