Bob and Mary Schindler, Terri Schiavo’s parents,
certainly became media savvy in the days before their daughter
died. How could they
not be? The tragic story of a family torn apart by a feud at
a sick bed was reported all over the world.
Media attention is always a two edged sword. News cameras attract
anyone and everyone, like a light draws bugs. In this case they
drew Tom DeLay, George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Bill Frist, Karl Rove,
Randall Terry, and an endless stream of people determined to prove
their religiosity with bad performance art.
None of it helped the Schindlers. The judiciary, both Democrats
and Republicans, ruled time and again that only their son-in-law
had the right to determine if Terri lived or died.
After state courts, federal courts and the
Supreme Court either ruled against them or refused to take up
their cause they became
increasingly desperate. If the powerful couldn’t help them they
needed someone who might be able to bring public attention to bear
on their case. They called Jesse Jackson.
Progressives had watched in frustration as
the media’s herd mentality
made Terri Schiavo a twenty four hour seven day a week news story.
They wondered if the right wing had once again outfoxed them with
their relentless support of a seemingly unpopular issue that nonetheless
seemed to always work for them in the end.
The frustration was only magnified when Jesse Jackson appeared
and gave renewed life to a right wing wedge issue.
"I feel so passionate about this injustice
being done, how unnecessary it is to deny her a feeding tube,
water, not even ice
to be used for her parched lips. This is a moral issue and it transcends
politics and family disputes," Jackson eagerly
told the press.
We must take him at his word, but Jesse Jackson cannot have it
both ways. He owes it to his supporters to answer some very crucial
Does it concern Rev. Jackson that the Schiavo case is already
being used to stack the judiciary with conservatives? It must be
clear to Jesse Jackson that publicly choosing sides in this story
puts one of his feet in a different camp. If he sides with Tom
DeLay on any issue then he has to accept responsibility for the
consequences. DeLay made
his position clear:
"We will look at an arrogant, out of control,
unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at the Congress
and president when given jurisdiction to hear this case anew
and look at all the facts … The time will come for the men responsible
for this to answer for their behavior, but not today."
What will Jackson say when DeLay and his
friends in Congress work to undermine the independence of the
judiciary and use Terri
Schiavo as their excuse? I’m certain that he will fight against
their efforts, but he may have helped give them a strategic advantage
in their never ending fight to destroy the constitution itself
if it stands between them and a permanent hold on power.
Rev. Jackson can’t just say that his conscience
urged him to speak up for the Schindlers. Jackson must have
known that his
comments would be used to bolster the agendas of individuals
and interests who are ordinarily opposed to him. Surely he must
have thought about all of this before he decided to insert himself
into the Schiavo drama.
Even Terri Schiavo’s death didn’t stop the
right wing from using her for their own purposes. If Jackson
wants to be helpful he
could use his influence to help those who have been harmed by
their onslaught. In fact, he now has an obligation to do so.
He can begin by supporting Judge George Greer. The Republican
appointee has received death
threats and required police protection after he ruled in
favor of Michael Schiavo.
The Judge was also asked to leave his Southern
Baptist congregation. Perhaps Rev. Jackson might intercede
on the Judge’s behalf with
his fellow Christians. If there was ever a need for reconciliation
this is it. Jesse Jackson has twice negotiated for the release
of American service men held as POWs. That might be easier than
getting Southern Baptists to open their
minds, but if anyone is up to it, Jesse Jackson surely must
Everyone knows what will happen to the Schindlers.
They are the Paula Joneses of the 21st century. They are already
used to raise money for right wing causes, and they have had
a private trauma used to benefit someone else’s agenda. The Republican
party will then leave them to their own devices. Will Jesse Jackson
do the same?
He not only has a personal obligation to work towards healing
for the parties involved. He has to help undo any political damage
that has been done. Perhaps he has a plan that is too brilliant
for this columnist to contemplate. Let us pray.
The government, press, and church all reached
their low points in the Schiavo case. Aside from more Americans
wills, it is difficult to see if any good has come from this
story. The Democratic party still doesn’t know how to deal with
the DeLays and Roves of the world. They are relentless while
Democrats are afraid of their own shadows. It would not be shocking
if the right wing gained another victory by using a dying woman
and her fractured family.
So Jesse Jackson has his work cut out for him. He was already
a leading voice for progressives, not an easy task in the last
few years. It only gets harder as the right wing strut triumphantly
at home and abroad. Haters of the United Nations are chosen to
represent us at the UN and the World Bank will be led by a man
who hates the rest of the world. Condi and Rummy bring us closer
to disaster with ill considered remarks that insult world leaders.
We need Jesse Jackson now. We need his commitment and his clarity
of vision. We need him to keep the Democratic party from giving
us short shrift even as they find new ways to lose. If he can
give us that while also walking a thin line he is even smarter
than I thought. He had better be.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly
in . Ms.
Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City. She
can be reached via e-Mail at [email protected].
You can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com/