How are we to explain liberal's and leftists' support for disconnecting Terri Schiavo from her feeding tube and making her die a slow death, while she is guarded by police officers who prevent anyone from even putting a drop of water to her lips? And how are we to explain the liberals' belief that conservatives, who want to prevent this horror from occurring, are religious dictators intruding into a purely private matter?
Most people think that the liberals are driven by their pro-abortion ideology, which takes the form of opposition to the Christian idea that Terri's radically limited life is nevertheless a human life and so worthy of protection. But that can't be the liberals' whole motivation. To demonstrate this, let us suppose that Terri's husband Michael had wanted Terri to go on living on the feeding tube, or, alternatively, that Michael had handed legal guardianship to Terri's parents and they had wanted her to go on living on the feeding tube. In either of those cases, the liberals would have had no problem with Terri's continued existence. The issue of her living or dying wouldn't even have come up.
In other words, the very factors in this case upon which the liberals' supposedly principled anti-life position seems to be based are contingent. If Michael had not wanted Terri to die, the liberals wouldn't want her to die either; indeed, they wouldn't be thinking twice about the case, notwithstanding their current expressions of horror at the idea of a person living her whole life on a feeding tube. And since, in this hypothetical scenario, the liberals themselves would be consenting to Terri's living in that condition, they obviously wouldn't be calling conservatives "theocrats" and "religious fanatics" for wanting the same thing that the liberals themselves would be agreeing to.
Therefore the liberal position cannot be simply that a person in Terri's situation ought to die. Rather, the liberal position seems to be that personal choice—Michael's personal choice—ought to prevail.
But this explanation also fails to hold up, as we can see from the following considerations: (1) Terri's parents and siblings love her and want her to live; (2) Terri's parents and siblings are convinced that Terri has consciousness and is not in a vegetative state; (3) Michael has two children by his common law wife of many years, and so logically ought to divorce Terri and let the guardianship revert to Terri's parents. Given these factors, Michael's right to decide on Terri's life and death ceases to seem so sacred. Why, then, would liberals side so absolutely with Michael's (highly doubtful) right to have his wife's existence terminated, while they completely dismiss the Schindlers' (correct and understandable) desire to be made her guardians and to save her life?
If individual rights and personal choice are the liberals' bottom line, why must the personal preference of Michael, who has (understandably) moved on with his life, be seen as inviolable, but the personal preference of Terri's parents, who have not moved on with their lives but want to care for their daughter, must be equated with theocratic tyranny and resisted at all costs?
Michael's right of guardianship stems from his status as Terri's husband. But he's given up that status in all but name by starting a new family. Since when are liberals so solicitous of traditional marital bonds and the rights of husbands over their wives—let alone the right of an estranged husband to have his wife killed?
Liberal famously regard marriage as an ever-changing institution, to be reshaped to suit changing human needs. Why then do the liberals treat the Shiavo's marriage, and Michael's rights proceeding therefrom, as written in stone, even though it has long since come to an end? Why don't the liberals simply call on Michael to divorce Terri and let the Schindlers take care of her?
As all these questions suggest, there remains something mysterious and uncanny at the heart of the liberals' position on this issue. Their passionate conviction that Terri must die cannot be explained in terms of any recognizable liberal perspective, whether a disbelief in the soul, the desire to dispense with a less-than-complete human life that inconveniences others, a devotion to serving the rights and desires of individuals, or an easy-going attitude toward the traditional bonds and duties of marriage. Therefore, I would argue, their position on the Schiavo case can only be explained as stemming from something extrinsic to the case itself, namely their bigoted animus against conservatives: since conservatives support Terri Schiavo's right to live, liberals must oppose it. As a liberal professor recently said to an acquaintance of mine (and these were his exact words), "Anything Tom DeLay and those conservatives are for, I'm against."
This reactiveness is a symptom of the extremism that has taken over left-liberals since 9/11. As the conservative writer Jim Kalb points out, prior to 9/11, even when liberal positions were disastrously wrong, they still had a more or less predictable, liberal logic to them that a conservative could understand. But since 9/11, liberals in their hatred of Bush and of conservatives have descended into sheer irrationalism, in the process giving up even those liberal principles that were decent. Thus, prior to 9/11, liberals would no doubt have taken the Schindler's side, as representing the rights of an oppressed and helpless individual. But after 9/11 (with some notable exceptions, such as Jesse Jackson), they do not.
What is it about 9/11 that has had this effect on the left? The post-9/11 world has placed liberals and leftists under an unbearable pressure. The Islamist attack on our country propelled us into a conflict, perhaps a decades-long conflict, with a mortal enemy. But liberals can't stand the idea that we have an enemy, let alone a mortal enemy, a "them," whose very existence justifies our use of force. Therefore such an enemy must be seen as a product of "root causes" generated by us. Further, in keeping with the inverted moral order of liberalism, the more threatening such an enemy really is, the more vile must be the root causes within ourselves that are creating that enemy. The more wicked our enemy actually is, the more judgmental, greedy, cynical, dishonest, uncompassionate, racist, and imperialistic we must be for fighting him. If our enemy seeks a theocratic dictatorship over the whole world (which is the case), we must be seen as seeking a theocratic dictatorship over the whole world, even though there has never been anything remotely like a theocratic dictatorship in our entire history.
Thus the liberals' helpless rage, both against the war on Islamic theocracy and against the conservatism that has become dominant in American politics as a result of that war, takes the form of a floating indictment of conservatives as the real theocrats. This attitude is then projected onto any issue that may arise between conservatives and liberals, such as the battle over the fate of Terri Schiavo: Terri's right to live is passionately backed by conservatives; conservatives are theocrats; therefore Terri is a symbol of theocracy, and therefore Terri must die.
Lawrence Auster is the author of Erasing America: The Politics of the Borderless Nation. He offers a traditionalist conservative perspective at View from the Right.