Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 12, 2009
POLITICS: Obamacare and the Ghost of Terri Schiavo

NPR's headline on yesterday's town hall on health care by President Obama:

Obama Says His Health Plan Won't 'Pull The Plug On Grandma'

The NY Daily News had a similar headline using that quote in this morning's print edition, as does this Reuters item; the NY Post less delicately shortens the headline to 'WE WON'T PULL PLUG ON GRANNY'.

This is not the place the White House wanted to be in right now. Even George W. Bush, as many things as his opponents threw at him and as low as his approval ratings went at times, never felt compelled to ... well, as Jake Tapper put it,

[I]f the president finds himself at a town hall meeting telling the American people that he does not want to set up a panel to kill their grandparents ... perhaps, at some point, the president has lost control of the message.

I've previously covered one of the primary reasons why Obama is in this pickle: he doesn't have a clearly defined, easily and consistently explained plan. There are still multiple bills, none of which has the unambiguous support of either the White House or a working majority in both Houses of Congress; the bills are massively long and complicated, yet for the most part they leave huge numbers of unanswered questions by deferring important decisions to vaguely-constructed and questionably supervised bureaucracies. Many of the worst things in the bills are not what they say they will do, but what by silence they would permit to happen. The absence of a ban on using federally-provided insurance funds for abortions is one example, as noted by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in explaining why the USCCB (long a supporter of more government funding for universal health care coverage) can't support the House bill:

Some seemed surprised at [a previous objection by the Bishops], since abortion was not specifically mentioned in draft health care bills until recently. Those with longer memories may recall that the Medicaid statute doesn't mention abortion either, but it was funding 300,000 abortions a year in the 1970s until we put a stop to that with the Hyde amendment. In any case, numerous amendments to keep abortion out of health care reform have been defeated in committee, and it is now apparent that some leaders have every intention of threatening the health care reform process by forcing Americans to accept abortion mandates and/or fund unlimited abortion in their health coverage.

Camille Paglia, also a supporter in general of health care 'reform' but a critic of Obama's approach, connects the same dynamic to the debate over whether Obamacare would create "death panels" empowered to cut off treatment for those deemed not worthy of continued life, as we have seen happen in European systems:

I simply do not understand the drift of my party toward a soulless collectivism. This is in fact what Sarah Palin hit on in her shocking image of a "death panel" under Obamacare that would make irrevocable decisions about the disabled and elderly. When I first saw that phrase, headlined on the Drudge Report, I burst out laughing. It seemed so over the top! But on reflection, I realized that Palin's shrewdly timed metaphor spoke directly to the electorate's unease with the prospect of shadowy, unelected government figures controlling our lives. A death panel not only has the power of life and death but is itself a symptom of a Kafkaesque brave new world where authority has become remote, arbitrary and spectral. And as in the Spanish Inquisition, dissidence is heresy, persecuted and punished.

Surely, the basic rule in comprehensive legislation should be: First, do no harm. The present proposals are full of noble aims, but the biggest danger always comes from unforeseen and unintended consequences.

Even beyond the particulars of the present bills, what Obama and his Congressional allies are confronting is the legacy of their own party's deliberately constructed image. And a part of that image that they may least have expected to haunt them is the ghost of Terri Schiavo.

Political parties are not born anew each election cycle. The average voter, having limited time to devote to politics, very prudently comes to rely upon the general reputation of a party to form an impression of what its individual members stand for. A reasonably informed voter will try to learn at least a few things about particular candidates, but even political junkies rarely know A to Z on where all their elected representatives stand on every issue of public consequence (quick: what does your State Senator think about immigration? capital gains taxes? the minimum wage? gun control?). Thus, a party's image is important and carries the baggage, for good and for ill, of the high-profile debates in which it takes a prominent position. Moreover, a party's image is built not only by its leaders but its supporters inside and out of public office. People can usually filter out the crazies on the margins, but the battery of media commentators and activists involved in any given controversy add to that overall image.

Indelible images are hard to shake. During the last election, Obama ran ads criticizing John McCain for opposing federal funding for stem cell research and being an anti-immigrant hardliner. These were blatant lies, of course - the polar opposites of McCain's actual positions, laughably in the case of the immigration ads given that McCain had risked his political career over his support for the comprehensive immigration bill - but Obama obviously assumed that the ads would be effective because the audience would identify McCain with his party's reputation on those issues and would be unaware of his actual record.

Which brings us to Terri Schiavo. Now, I have previously discussed the immediate political cost to the Bush Administration's agenda of the Schiavo brouhaha in March of 2005. Commentators have debated for some years now how much political damage the GOP suffered with moderates from its identification with the movement (headed largely by committed pro-lifers, many of them religious) to prevent the State of Florida from, essentially, starving the brain-damaged Schiavo to death. That controversy was an unsettling one: the issue was what to do about a woman who had no medically realistic prospects for recovery, was consuming expensive healthcare dollars, and had left no reliable instructions on what her wishes would be in that situation, and a lot of people were very uncomfortable with either option, continuing to pay for her care or depriving her of nourishment. Public opinion at the time was hardly unanimous on what should be done (indeed, even some high-profile left-wingers sided with those who opposed removing Schiavo's feeding tube). The conventional wisdom in the pundit class was that the damage done was all to one side - that the flap revealed the GOP to be in the thrall of religious extremists. I don't doubt that some such damage was indeed done. But little attention was paid to the fact that the Right vs Left narrative of the Schiavo episode - one willingly stoked by Democrats eager to capitalize on precisely the "Religious Right overreach" angle - painted the Left as the advocates of 'pulling the plug' on Terri Schiavo. Another anecdote had been added to the public's collective memory of what the two sides stand for - an anecdote, I should add, that is consistent with other pieces of the puzzle, as the Left has clashed with the same pro-lifers again and again on abortion, assisted suicide, and the destruction of embryos for stem cell research. Sarah Palin's invocation of her Down's Syndrome son Trig is another flashpoint: it is the Left that insists that it is appropriate to abort a child when prenatal testing reveals such a condition, and it was from the Left that we heard cruder jibes suggesting that Palin should have done just that. A coherent pattern emerges, forms itself and takes root in the public's mind.

In 2006 and 2008, nothing happened - at least, nothing visible that would interfere with the Democrats' march to power, as other issues were at the fore and nobody on either side much wanted to discuss euthanasia. But now, with health care legislation at stake and the end-of-life issues it poses front and center, and with "cutting costs" a core part of his mantra for "reform," Barack Obama is running into the legacy of Terri Schiavo and those other pieces of the pattern. Schiavo's name isn't heard much, but it doesn't have to be, because it's part of the public's memory. The American people know that the same people who wanted to pull the tube from Terri Schiavo want to be trusted not to pull the plug on grandma. Which is why they are appropriately skeptical of any hint that Obamacare would leave any power in federal hands to make those decisions.

Four years ago, the Left was proud of its stance on withdrawing not just medical care but food itself from Terri Schiavo. That was their choice. If the price to be paid is a public in need of assurance that President Obama and his plan don't share those values and won't encourage the same thing, well, choices have consequences, and the voiceless dead can still haunt us in ways we had never foreseen.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:13 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)

This has to be the first time the words "Palin" and "shrewd" were used in the same sentence.

Um, here is the real world, which is not a world in which the "Dr." Frists make diagnoses by videotape, Schiavo was dead. But, to understand that would require understanding basic science, so I know why it is beyond the ken of Crank and his ditto-heads.

Posted by: Magrooder at August 12, 2009 4:57 PM

Thank you, Dr. Magrooder, for offering us the diagnosis you came to after visiting her bedside. So, the whole debate was moot? Because "dead" means dead, no? As in, not breathing, not consuming food or water, etc.

Posted by: Crank at August 12, 2009 5:41 PM

A very good article which points out some of Ms. Paglia's inconsistancies can be seen at:

Posted by: Christian Prophet at August 12, 2009 6:11 PM

I am pretty sure it was actually the person closest to her in life, her husband, that wanted to respect her wishes should she end up in such a state. All the "small government" righties wanted to intervene like crazy in what was clearly a personal, intimate matter. While I have it formalized (although it would not be of importance knowing the wishes of my parents) if I did not have an end of life directive I would sure as hell want it to be the person with whom I lived for the past 7 years making the decision about what should happen to me in this sort of case. TS was kept alive by machines so while not technically dead she was not exactly living it up. If you can explain how this is not the exact type of government interference you and yours complain about all the time that would be terrific (and please don't use the sad, sad line of "this would be keeping her alive not killing her" as interference is interference and presumably there is some principal to your viewpoint and not just a result-based statement).

Posted by: jim at August 12, 2009 6:35 PM

Let's recall that this wasn't a case about heroic measures. It was about not continuing to feed her. The law has to regard stopping that as a serious step.

I'd agree that if you had fairly clear evidence of what she wanted, you go with that; I may have moral issues with pulling the feeding tube at that point, but I don't disagree with letting the legal rule leave that decision to the patient's expressed wishes. Much of the controversy in that particular case was over the credibility of the husband's evidence.

I don't want the government making qualitative decisions about who lives or dies, but having a legal presumption that life continues unless a court is presented with credible evidence that the person wanted otherwise, rather than just step aside? That's a reasonable rule.

Anyway, you guys are avoiding my political point, which is that it is simply not the case that the Schiavo case was one in which - as the Left contended - there was only one possible position that any reasonable person could or did support. It's that very attitude that is haunting Obama today. Plenty of reasonable people were unsettled by the eagerness of the Left to equate her position with being "dead."

Posted by: Crank at August 12, 2009 6:47 PM

"it is the Left that insists that it is appropriate to abort a child when prenatal testing reveals such a condition"
Appropriate? Wrong choice of words there. Not surprising, given a goal to paint them in the worst light.

"The American people know that the same people who wanted to pull the tube from Terri Schiavo want to be trusted not to pull the plug on grandma."
Wanted the choice given to the husband Crank (or prior written directives). As per law, generally accepted practices for centuries hitting on next of kin, and common sense.
I know, the Law. Silly thing, always want people to follow.

"to prevent the State of Florida from"
Next of kin asking the hospital from. This is what happened. After the lawsuits were done, the State had nothing to do with the final decision.

The State was the Right's weapon to defy the liberty and freedom of this couple from the medical care they wanted. Shocking, right?

"Four years ago, the Left was proud of its stance on withdrawing not just medical care but food itself from Terri Schiavo."
Proud to fight off the government from forcing someone to stay alive, regardless of her legal caregiver's wishes? This is something to be proud of.

I've brought this up before, but you really need to look up on Texas' Futile Care law if you want to point fingers at who wants who to die.
You should make a stand asking the Republican governor and Republican statehouse to overturn a Republican governor's bill. I'll await the post, and see how it plays on Redstate.

Posted by: Dave at August 12, 2009 7:05 PM

You brought Schiavo up and you're completely wrong about the case. This was the right wanting to wield a religious, moral hammer in a matter that should have been left to those better qualified to deal with it, namely her husband. Y'all didn't like his credibility because you didn't fancy his position. If you think for one second all the grandstanding political BS (mostly) the GOP did there wasn't just that then you simply choose not to see that for what it was.

Posted by: jim at August 12, 2009 9:40 PM

All this talk of a death Panel is comical and over the top rhetoric design to inflame not educate. I for one know this issue all to well, have to sit with my siblings and discus having a DNR put in place for a parent. The decision was easy for us b/c we are a close knit family and knew the wishes of our father. Not many families can say that and if you add in to the equation stress of a terminal illness it is not an easy decision to make. Knowing the wishes of your loved one is very important b/c the time to make those decisions is not when time is running out. Most people will tell you they want to die in dignity not with a bunch of tubes running into them. But then again writing opinions on opinions does not make it fact.

Of the millions and millions of abortions that happen do you really think on lefties have them all? I would put dollars to donuts there is no m ore than two degrees of separation for any one person to an abortion.

So, Crank you are really saying the Governor of Facebook post was really a shrewd move not a total outright lie? But, then again she backtracked, explain the backtrack....

Posted by: javaman at August 12, 2009 11:00 PM


Legally, I think you're wrong. (Morally, of course, you're right.) I'm pretty certain that the Cruzan decision legally made providing nutrition into an "extraordinary measure."

I wish it were otherwise.


Posted by: soccer dad at August 13, 2009 11:00 AM

"If you think for one second all the grandstanding political BS (mostly) the GOP did there wasn't just that then you simply choose not to see that for what it was."


Thanks for telling us crazy righties what we were really thinking during the TS case. I appreciate your efforts to tell me what I was actually thinking.


"'it is the Left that insists that it is appropriate to abort a child when prenatal testing reveals such a condition'
Appropriate? Wrong choice of words there. Not surprising, given a goal to paint them in the worst light."

The point you imply is wrong. When Palin surfaced nationally last year, did you not hear the horror and hand-wringing from many on the Left that Palin would dare allow her child into the world knowing his condition? They were so dumb struck by her decision that they decided she just had to be some type of the worst person and mother imaginable. In their world, aborting such a child is the moral and appropriate thing to do. (It was odd how the value of moral relativity went away in that situation.)

Posted by: per14 at August 13, 2009 2:03 PM


Where did I tell you what you were thinking (as opposed to the condescending post which clearly told me what I (we) were thinking)? I never said that is what you were thinking. For all I know you personally were outraged by the way the GOP politicians grandstanded that case. If so, great for you, you go it right.

Posted by: jim at August 13, 2009 5:53 PM

Dude, hitch yourself to another wagon than Palin. You're gonna be DEEPLY disappointed.
BTW, playing stupid in your response to jim isn't making you look good either.

Posted by: Berto at August 13, 2009 7:39 PM

The American people know that the same people who wanted to pull the tube from Terri Schiavo want to be trusted not to pull the plug on grandma.

This cannot be repeated enough.

And the whole entire reason why they wanted her dead so badly is because they knew a great many religious people wanted her to live. While that doesn't impact this debate in the slightest--that I can see--I have to wonder why lefties cheer for the death of a stranger just beacuse people they don't like want her to live.

Posted by: spongeworthy at August 13, 2009 8:42 PM

Wow. That is totally unhinged. Nice, factless pontification to back up your want for a religious based government. Yikes.

Posted by: jim at August 14, 2009 1:15 AM

Hey sponge,
If Schaivo had a living will we'd know what her intentions were for sure.
Keep fighting living wills my friend, or else you'll find yourself playing your game without a political football.

Posted by: Berto at August 14, 2009 11:46 AM

"In their world, aborting such a child is the moral and appropriate thing to do."

It is appropriate to come to a full stop at a stop sign. It is not appropriate to roll through a stop sign.
It is appropriate to return the tools you borrow from a neighbor. Etc. etc.
It is appropriate to scold a child who uses the argument 'they did it first', unless they are talking about politics, at which point it is ok. Etc. etc.
It is appropriate to abort your child because they have Down's syndrome. And this is where the problem is.

Please find comments - by reputable sources, not random messeboard people - who say that 'aborting such a child is the moral and appropriate thing to do.'

After that, we can discuss why we chose singular events or people and use it to apply as a broad stroke.

Posted by: Dave at August 14, 2009 6:51 PM

"Schiavo's name isn't heard much, but it doesn't have to be, because it's part of the public's memory"

I really don't think the public is making the connection between Schiavo and health care. They may not want death panels, but what makes you think that's the reason? Assuming they remember Schiavo, you are assuming among other things, that they connect Schiavo with the democratic party, they -blame- the democrats for Schiavo, and make the not immediately obvious connection between Schiavo and death panels.

You may be making that connection, and you may want the public to make that connection, but what evidence do you actually have that voters are thinking this way?

Posted by: MVH at August 15, 2009 10:09 AM

Most of the Schiavo controversy is because Florida allows a guardian to rely on ORAL declarations as to end of life wishes due to a Florida Supreme Court decision (Browning, 1990)

However, the above decision notes oral, as opposed to written, declarations do not automatically meet the "clear and convincing" standard, and that a bench trial would probably be needed.

Which is exactly what happened in the Schiavo case - the guardian petitioned the court to make a decision.

Most of those opposed to the removal of her feeding tube, including her parents and siblings, held that in their opinion, even a written advanced directive is not sufficient to remove a feeding tube (i.e., once in, the feeding tube cannot be removed).

Posted by: Bill at August 15, 2009 5:20 PM

I'm not playing stupid at all Berto. The comment explicitly said what the GOP was thinking in response to the TS situation. If I have to stick my head in one tent or the other, I'm in the GOP. And my thoughts toward GS weren't "grand-standing" at all and neither were many I know who shared the same thoughts.

And I'm not hitching my wagon to Palin. (Talk about being stupid in a comment, Berto.) That's a complete red herring to this discussion. One had to be in cave in the summer and fall of 2008 to not hear the overwhelming disgust many felt for Palin precisely because she decided NOT to abort her disabled child. Many liberals found her morally repugnant for this exact reason. So, I'm not hitching my wagon to her at all, but what I'm hitching my wagon to is the value of an unborn child, regardless of whether he's disabled or not.

Posted by: per14 at August 16, 2009 7:01 AM


Are you hearing voices? ". . . the overwhelming disgust many felt for Palin precisely because she decided NOT to abort her disabled child."

I don't know anyone who expressed such views. To the contrary, the whole point of the pro-choice position is, well, choice. She made a choice, yet deny others the same right. The criticism related to Trig was more a (sexist, in my view) claim that she should have not run because of her home obligations. She should not have run becasue she was utterly and totally ill-equipped for the job, not because of her family.

Posted by: Magrooder at August 16, 2009 9:43 PM

"She should not have run becasue she was utterly and totally ill-equipped for the job, not because of her family.
Posted by Magrooder at August 16, 2009 9:43 PM"

Yet, somehow I suspect you voted for the guy with zero experience for the top spot. However, despite voting for zero for president you are concerned that someone more qualified than him was ill-equipped for the vice presidency. The thought process of the left is interesting to say the least.

Posted by: largebill at August 17, 2009 3:23 PM

largebill, have you listened to her speak or read anything she has written?

Palin is an uneducated, ignorant, lying moron. Other than being President, there is no job experience that truly prepares someone for that job. We should consider intelligence, judgment and character. Princess Sarah fails on all three.

But, please, please, please, nominate her in 2012.

Posted by: Magrooder at August 17, 2009 8:11 PM
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