Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Message to the moralists: Mind your own business

It looks like Fred Thompson can kiss off the Christian conservative vote. He has insulted them, big time.

During a news conference yesterday, the Republican presidential candidate basically stated that when a family member is struggling to decide whether to pull the plug on a mortally ill loved one, everybody else should just butt out because it's none of their business. Indeed, it's an issue near and dear to him: “I had to face a situation like that in my own personal life, with my own daughter.”

Thompson's stance is definitely not in tune with the Christian conservative agenda. Their attitude - as evidenced by the Terri Schiavo case, the 24/7 cable TV melodrama of 2005 - is that the federal government should intervene in the private lives of families, and ensure, in accordance with their views of morality, that the doomed patient remains attached to the feeding tube.

When Thompson was asked about the Schiavo case last month, he claimed that he couldn't recall the details. It turns out that he pleaded amnesia merely to avoid discussing his own family trauma. But for those of you who truly don't remember the Schiavo case, here's the gist:

Terri Schiavo, who had hovered near death for the better part of 15 years, was being kept alive by a feeding tube. Her husband wanted to remove the tube. State courts in Florida, backed by the testimony of medical specialists, ruled that he had the right to remove the tube; the key state judge was a southern Baptist and Republican. But religious conservatives, cracking the whip, compelled the Republican Congress to pass a special law, overruling the state courts and Michael Schiavo. In the immortal words of then-House GOP leader Tom DeLay, "I don't care what her husband says."

Eventually, the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled for Michael Schiavo. Which brings us back to Thompson; clearly, his idea of conservatism is that the federal government should not be in the business of promoting morality and butting into people's private lives. That's the old conservative credo, as articulated several generations ago by Barry Goldwater (who said in 1964, "I fear Washington and centralized government more than I do Moscow"). The problem is, Thompson's credo is not the Christian right's credo.

It's probably bad enough, from their perspective, that Thompson is known to be an infrequent churchgoer, that he once lobbied for an abortion rights group, and that he bestirred few hearts at the weekend Values Voter Summit. And now, from Thompson at his news conference, comes this blasphemy:

"Making this (Schiavo case, and others like it) into a political football is something that I don't welcome, and this will probably be the last time I ever address it. It should be decided by the families - the federal government and the state government, too, except for the court system, ought to stay out of those matters as far as I am concerned."

And the reason he doesn't want to revist this issue publicly is because he knows first-hand about what it's like to struggle with it in private: His 38-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Panici, died from an accidental drug overdose in 2002, six days after being hospitalized. He said yesterday, "These things need to be decided by the family. And I was at that bedside."

That should put the kibosh on Fred. Anyone who sounds this much like a Goldwater conservative, anyone who refuses to accept a little evangelical assistance while at a stricken daughter's bedside, won't stand much of a chance with religious conservatives. After all, it was Goldwater himself who in 1981 said of those folks, "I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism."


On the mercenary front, Erik Prince uttered a revealing remark the other day. The founder/owner of Blackwater, who says his longstanding family Republican ties have played absolutely no role in his reaping of more than $1.02 billion in private security contracts from the Bush administration, was being quizzed on CNN on the issue of accountability...or, more specifically, about why the Bush team and the Iraqi government have long failed to hold Blackwater accountable for anything (as two new audits have also concluded).

Prince was asked, "Whose laws are you subject to?" And in response, almost in passing, he told CNN: "Well, in the ideal sense, we would be subject to the Iraqi law, but that would mean -- that would indicate that there was a functioning Iraqi court system where Westerners could actually get a fair trial. That's not the case right now."

Well, that's not very helpful to the Bush team, is it? The administration has been struggling for many months to put the best spin on the failure of the Iraqi government to meet the benchmarks laid out in Washington...and here is Prince, casually mentioning a failure that is not even addressed in the benchmarks.

When the White House issued its July report card on Iraqi "progress," there was no mention of any criteria for the Iraqi judiciary. Indeed, the judiciary is barely mentioned at all. But now Prince, seeking only to defend his mercenaries, has informed us that the Iraqi judiciary is not even "functioning" in any western sense of the word. Perhaps the White House needs to craft an extra benchmark. We thank Prince for that inadvertent public service.