Sunday, March 27, 2005

And I went up there, I said, "Shrink, I want to kill. I mean, I wanna, I
wanna kill. Kill. I wanna, I wanna see, I wanna see blood and gore and
guts and veins in my teeth. Eat dead burnt bodies. I mean kill, Kill,
KILL, KILL." And I started jumpin up and down yelling, "KILL, KILL," and
he started jumpin up and down with me and we was both jumping up and down
yelling, "KILL, KILL."

--Arlo Guthrie, "Alice's Restaurant"

That's what the recent media coverage of the Terri Schiavo case feels like. Kill kill kill, all kill all the time. The worst of it is how eagerly they report the polling that supports her killing. The need to kill what the Nazis used to call "useless eaters" has always been elite-driven, a point made brilliantly by Orson Scott Card. The elites eat it up when the general public agrees with their policy positions and rejects those ignorant Christians (there is a special delight in certain quarters when Christians take it on the chin; as one guy on the DU site taunted the other day, "Why can't their God save Terri?"). And, in an elite-friendly opinion environment like this one, you can count on hearing the cheerful, breathless announcement of new polling every day. This is reminiscent of the impeachment of Bill Clinton, when the media never let us forget how much support our beloved president had among the public.

And that's what makes me hopeful, in spite of everything. ("In spite of everything" is a relevant phrase here, because it recalls the last line in the diary of Anne Frank.) It's not just that most people want to "pull the plug" on Terri, in spite of the absence of any plug. It's not a matter of the public being wise or ignorant, or informed or misinformed.

It's just that there are some issues whose complexity can't be quantified in a yes-or-no poll question. And I think it's pretty clear today that the two-thirds majorities that opposed Clinton's removal from office were not indicative of a national mandate in favor of Oval Office quickies with interns, as much as the elites tried to spin it that way at the time. In retrospect, I think that that impeachment brought the very complex issue of integrity before the public in a very dramatic way, in a way that the public wasn't ready to endorse. And, I believe, impeachment affected the public in ways not readily visible until a year and a half later, when there was no good reason that the two-thirds majorities that protected Clinton shouldn't have given his Vice-President more than an electoral draw.

That's what I think will happen in the wake of the Schiavo story: That the public, in the long run, won't be as accepting of ending life on a whim as the elites seem to believe they are now.

But for now, it's kill, kill, kill.

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