Thursday, March 24, 2005

Bully pulpit

The vitriol in the Terri Schiavo case is testing the convictions of the protagonists. Noted jurist and former pest control specialist Tom DeLay lashed out at the Supreme Court in the wake of their decision to forego intervention in the case. "When this tragic episode is resolved, the Supreme Court will have some serious questions to answer about its silence and arbitrary interpretation of federalism, but those questions will have to wait for now."

Now, exactly what does he mean by these threatening words? Judges in this country are beginning to hear harsh words of retribution and in response to rulings that spark controversy. Following the recent murders of a judges family members in Chicago, this month the semi-annual Judicial Conference raised the issue of the need for greater security for federal judges with the Department of Justice and the U.S. Marshall’s service.

Tom DeLay, who holds unmatched power within the Republican controlled House of Representatives, knows that his words have a powerful effect on the Christian Conservative base of the Party. He also must know that he is playing with fire, and may yet move individuals from peaceful dissent to more violent means of expression. It is important to remember that the Right-to-Life movement already has a history of spawning individual acts of domestic terrorism in the name of protecting what they view as innocent life. They have already committed murder in the name of protecting the sanctity of life. How could a judge involved in the Schiavo case not have good reason to fear for their his or her own safety?

But Judge DeLay is not alone in his irresponsible abuse of his position of power. Senate Majority Leader and presidential aspirant Bill Frist has entered the fray in a transparent effort to play to the base that will be critical to his pursuit of the oval office. Dr. Frist first challenged the validity of the medical diagnosis based upon his review of a home video, and then undermined the public confidence in the judiciary through his attacks on the failure of the legal system to reach the conclusion that was demanded by he and Judge DeLay.

What is at issue here is more than the fealty of the Republican leadership to the traditions of conservatism and the core tenets of the Republican Party. Yes, due process in the courts should be supported and respected. Yes, the elevation of state issues to the federal level should be avoided. And yes, the founders specifically sought to prohibit legislative action that involved itself in matters of individual rights and liberties. But Judge DeLay and Dr. Frist have found something more important that adhering to these core principles of their party. What is most important, in this era of determined political warfare, is keeping the pot stirred, for as Judge DeLay so artfully pointed out, someone must held to account here.

And so they should. DeLay and Frist are national leaders. They have a right to pursue their partisan agendas, without question. But they owe their primary obligation of duty to upholding public faith in the Constitution and our system of democracy, particularly as we tout its virtues in the international stage. Every issue cannot be allowed to be fodder for political strategy. At some point, after the voting is done, the antagonists must be able to unite in their common commitment to the nation. Just as Goldwater and Humphrey, and Reagan and O’Neill could share a drink and a laugh after a hard day, DeLay and Frist need to remember where the game of politics ends and the business of governing begins.

No comments: