Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Flying Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Thank goodness the likes of Paul Krugman stand sentry at the gates of society to warn us of the approaching horde of Vandals and Visigoths who threaten all manner of rapine and mayhem. Krugman sounds the tocsin in this New York Times column:

Democratic societies have a hard time dealing with extremists in their midst. The desire to show respect for other people's beliefs all too easily turns into denial: nobody wants to talk about the threat posed by those whose beliefs include contempt for democracy itself.

Interpretation: The extremists (guess who they are) are a threat to democracy and should not be tolerated.

We can see this failing clearly in other countries. In the Netherlands, for example, a culture of tolerance led the nation to ignore the growing influence of Islamic extremists until they turned murderous. But it's also true of the United States, where dangerous extremists belong to the majority religion and the majority ethnic group, and wield great political influence.

Interpretation: The dangerous extremists are white, conservative Christians (bet you knew that).

Before he saw the polls, Tom DeLay declared that "one thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America." Now he and his party, shocked by the public's negative reaction to their meddling, want to move on. But we shouldn't let them. The Schiavo case is, indeed, a chance to highlight what's going on in America.

Interpretation: Let's tell America that Christians have been trying to save Terri Schiavo's life and liberal Democrats have been trying to have her tortured to death. That'll be a sure-fire winner in the 2008 elections.

One thing that's going on is a climate of fear for those who try to enforce laws that religious extremists oppose. Randall Terry, a spokesman for Terri Schiavo's parents, hasn't killed anyone, but one of his former close associates in the anti-abortion movement is serving time for murdering a doctor. George Greer, the judge in the Schiavo case, needs armed bodyguards.

Interpretation: The spokesperson for the Schindler family knows someone who committed murder, therefore Judge Greer needs bodyguards. Everybody knows how violent those Christians are.

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. Everyone knows about the attempt to circumvent the courts through "Terri's law." But there has been little national exposure for a Miami Herald report that Jeb Bush sent state law enforcement agents to seize Terri Schiavo from the hospice - a plan called off when local police said they would enforce the judge's order that she remain there.

Interpretation: Unelected political appointees are sovereign in Mr. Krugman's United States, and the representatives of the people have no business exercising their constitutional prerogatives over them.

It should be pointed out, in this connection, that Gov. Bush sent his agents to rescue Ms. Schiavo because there was a lack of clarity as to who, exactly, had jurisdiction in the matter. When the local police said they would enforce the judge's odious order, the Governor pulled back. Where's the dire threat to democracy here? It's purely in the fevered recesses of Mr. Krugman's paranoid mind.

And the future seems all too likely to bring more intimidation in the name of God and more political intervention that undermines the rule of law. The religious right is already having a big impact on education: 31 percent of teachers surveyed by the National Science Teachers Association feel pressured to present creationism-related material in the classroom.

Interpretation: Parents and school boards are trying to take some control over what their children are taught. Democracy is imperiled! The sky is falling!

But medical care is the cutting edge of extremism. Yesterday The Washington Post reported on the growing number of pharmacists who, on religious grounds, refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or morning-after pills. These pharmacists talk of personal belief; but the effect is to undermine laws that make these drugs available. And let me make a prediction: soon, wherever the religious right is strong, many pharmacists will be pressured into denying women legal drugs.

And it won't stop there. There is a nationwide trend toward "conscience" or "refusal" legislation. Laws in Illinois and Mississippi already allow doctors and other health providers to deny virtually any procedure to any patient. Again, think of how such laws expose doctors to pressure and intimidation.

Interpretation: No medical professional should have the right on religious grounds to deny a woman an abortion if she wants one. If a woman presents herself as a patient for an abortion, a doctor should be obligated, under pain of having his license revoked, to perform it even if he or she thinks a murder is being committed. Now that's "pressure and intimidation."

But the big step by extremists will be an attempt to eliminate the filibuster, so that the courts can be packed with judges less committed to upholding the law than Mr. Greer.

Interpretation: The senate, in keeping with the constitution, intends to change a procedural rule which has been abused by a minority of senators in order to prevent the full senate from voting on the president's judicial nominees. Mr. Krugman's idea of religious extremism is the conviction that in a democracy the majority should get to pick the judges as it had for two hundred years until the last congress. That is indeed extremism of the most insidious kind.

We can't count on restraint from people like Mr. DeLay, who believes that he's on a mission to bring a "biblical worldview" to American politics, and that God brought him a brain-damaged patient to help him with that mission.

What we need - and we aren't seeing - is a firm stand by moderates against religious extremism. Some people ask, with justification, Where are the Democrats? But an even better question is, Where are the doctors fiercely defending their professional integrity? I think the American Medical Association disapproves of politicians who second-guess medical diagnoses based on video images - but the association's statement on the Schiavo case is so timid that it's hard to be sure.

Interpretation: Mr. Krugman implies that those best positioned to thwart people motivated by religious conviction are the Democrats. This is evidently because he thinks that Democrats have no religious convictions themselves. This is a stunning admission which will not be welcomed by beleaguered Democrats in red states.

The closest parallel I can think of to current American politics is Israel. There was a time, not that long ago, when moderate Israelis downplayed the rise of religious extremists. But no more: extremists have already killed one prime minister, and everyone realizes that Ariel Sharon is at risk.

The United States is pretty much just like Israel where religious extremists have killed a prime minister and threaten another. Yes sir, the U.S. is just like that. It was, after all, religious extremists who killed JFK and tried to kill Ford and Reagan, or maybe not, but if it wasn't, it could've been. We'll just bet that Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, was a Christian. After all, he was named after a book in the New Testament. And besides, white, conservative Christians have the highest crime and political assassination rates of any demographic group in the world. You can look it up.

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.

Yes, indeedy. It doesn't happen here, but it darn well could. Just let doctors refuse to perform abortions, return majority rule to the senate, and let people fight to save a woman from being starved and dehydrated and the next thing you know the religious nuts will be assassinating our presidents.

Instead of mocking Mr. Krugman perhaps we should show a little compassion for a man clearly in the advanced stages of psychosis. Let's hope he's getting treatment.

Breakthrough in the Death Penalty Debate

There are those who say that Terri Schiavo is not being killed, rather the state of Florida is simply letting her die by not feeding her. Of course, if a mother chose not to feed her infant we wouldn't call it "just letting" the child die, we'd call it murder.

Nevertheless, perhaps the argument has more merit than it might at first appear. It certainly suggests a novel solution to the vexing debate in this country over capital punishment.

With the reasoning of those who favor "letting Terri die" in mind Viewpoint proposes that we abolish the death penalty altogether. We recommend that every electric chair and gas chamber around the country be immediately dismantled and that we, as a nation, foreswear ever executing another murderer.

The only penalty we should impose upon them is to confine them to their cells...and withhold food and water until they die.

Moral Imbecility

Belmont Club tips us to a survey done by the BBC which asks readers to answer the question "What are your hopes for Iraq's parliament?"

Replies came from all over the world. Many were supportive of American efforts there, some were critical, and some were like that of Nina from Toronto:

I hate to say this to Iraqis, but I pray for chaos and civil war: it's the only way to stop Bush's policies and show that peace can never come through force. If Iraq gets peace, Bush wins credibility. It cannot be allowed to happen. Nina, Toronto, Canada

Nina pretty much shines the light on the dark places where the Left's priorities are concealed. She's willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands, maybe millions of Iraqis, just to keep Bush from looking good. She's so committed to the idea that peace can't come through the use of force that she'd rather see millions suffer than have her belief be proven wrong.

One tragic irony offered by people like this (there are several) is that they are moral imbeciles who are convinced that they're morally superior to anyone who sees things differently than they do. Sadly, there may be many more like Nina out there who secretly hope for failure in Iraq for the same reasons she does, but who realize that it would sound terrible for them to say it.

What ugly, twisted, hate-filled lives they must live.