DeLay, Deny and Demagogue

By MAUREEN DOWDP> New york Times

March 24, 2005

Oh my God, we really are in a theocracy.

Are the Republicans so obsessed with maintaining control over all branches of government, and are the Democrats so emasculated about not having any power, that they are willing to turn the nation into a wholly owned subsidiary of the church?

The more dogma-driven activists, self-perpetuating pols and ratings-crazed broadcast media prattle about "faith," the less we honor the credo that a person's relationship with God should remain a private matter.

As the Bush White House desperately maneuvers in Iraq to prevent the new government from being run according to the dictates of religious fundamentalists, it desperately maneuvers here to pander to religious fundamentalists who want to dictate how the government should be run.

Maybe President Bush should spend less time preaching about spreading democracy around the world and more time worrying about our deteriorating democracy.

Even some Republicans seemed appalled at this latest illustration of Nietzsche's observation that "morality is the best of all devices for leading mankind by the nose."

As Christopher Shays, one of five House Republicans who voted against the bill to allow the Terri Schiavo case to be snatched from Florida state jurisdiction and moved to federal court, put it: "This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy. There are going to be repercussions from this vote."

A CBS News poll yesterday found that 82 percent of the public was opposed to Congress and the president intervening in this case; 74 percent thought it was all about politics.

The president, who couldn't be dragged outdoors to talk about the more than a hundred thousand people who died in the horrific tsunami, was willing to be dragged out of bed to sign a bill about one woman his base had fixated on. But with the new polls, the White House seemed to shrink back a bit.

The scene on Capitol Hill this past week has been almost as absurdly macabre as the movie "Weekend at Bernie's," with Tom DeLay and Bill Frist propping up between them this poor woman in a vegetative state to indulge their own political agendas. Mr. DeLay, the poster child for ethical abuse, wanted to show that he is still a favorite of conservatives. Dr. Frist thinks he can ace out Jeb Bush to be 44, even though he has become a laughingstock by trying to rediagnose Ms. Schiavo's condition by video.

As one disgusted Times reader suggested in an e-mail: "Americans ought to send Bill Frist their requests: 'Dear Dr. Frist: Please watch the enclosed video and tell us if that mole on my mother's cheek is cancer. Does she need surgery?' "

Jeb, keeping up with the '08 competition, vainly tried to get Florida to declare Ms. Schiavo a ward of the state.

Republicans easily abandon their cherished principles of individual privacy and states' rights when their personal ambitions come into play. The first time they snatched a case out of a Florida state court to give to a federal court, it was Bush v. Gore. This time, it's Bush v. Constitution.

While Senate Democrats like Hillary Clinton, who are trying to curry favor with red staters, meekly allowed the shameful legislation to be enacted, at least some Floridian House members decided to put up a fight, though they knew they couldn't win.

The president and his ideological partners don't believe in separation of powers. They just believe in their own power. First they tried to circumvent the Florida courts; now they're trying to pack the federal bench with trustworthy conservatives and even blow up the filibuster rule. But they may yet learn a lesson on checks and balances, as the federal courts rebuffed them in the Schiavo case.

Mr. DeLay moved yesterday to file a friend of the court brief with the Supreme Court asking that Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube be restored while the federal court is deciding what to do. But as he exploits this one sad case, Mr. DeLay has voted to slash Medicaid by $15 billion, denying money to care for poor people in nursing homes, some on feeding tubes.

Mr. DeLay made his personal stake clear at a conference last Friday organized by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group. He said that God had brought Terri Schiavo's struggle to the forefront "to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America." He defined that as "attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others."

So it's not about her crisis at all. It's about his crisis.

E-mail: liberties@nytimes.com