A Tragic Death and other Tragic Deaths
I address a different aspect of this story in my opinion piece at Salon.com, “In gods we trust,” today.
Bush’s bizarre press conference on Thursday was according to the Washington Post “on Terri Schiavo anhd Weapons of Mass Destruction.” That US newspapers report this bewildering juxtaposition without so much as a “Huhn?” tells you to what estate political discourse in this country has fallen.
It should be obvious that Bush was cynically using the Schiavo tragedy to draw attention away from his massive intelligence failures with regard to alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Just as the Right employed the deaths of innocent Americans on 9/11 as a cover to pursue an unrelated war in Iraq, so Bush is using the death of an innocent woman to direct attention away from a supremely embarrassing report on US intelligence. Back when people used to put gold fillings in their teeth, it gave burglars an incentive occasionally to rob graves. This news conference was a sort of Public Relations grave robbery, and among the blackest moments in the history of the presidency.
“BUSH: Thank you all. Please be seated.
Today, millions of Americans are saddened by the death of Terri Schiavo.
Laura and I extend our condolences to Terri Schiavo’s families.
I appreciate the example of grace and dignity they have displayed at a difficult time. I urge all those who honor Terri Schiavo to continue to work to build a culture of life where all Americans are welcomed and valued and protected, especially those who live at the mercy of others.
The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak.
In cases where there are serious doubts and questions, the presumption should be in the favor of life.
The most solemn duty of the American president — come on up, guys — is to protect the American people.
Since September 11th, 2001, we’ve taken bold and vigorous steps to prevent further attacks and overcome emerging threats.
We face a new and different kind of enemy. The threats today are unprecedented. The lives of our citizens are at stake. To protect them, we need the best intelligence possible, and we must stay ahead of constantly changing intelligence challenges. ”
The doublespeak of the Christian Right oozes up between his words. Poor Terri Schiavo’s body, which had lost sentient brain function years ago, is being equated here to a fetus, and her death to an abortion. It is a monstrous analogy, and 70 percent of Americans think Bush should have stayed out of the whole affair.
What is interesting about the analogy, however, is that it seems to turn on its head the central underlying values of the anti-abortion lobby.
Anti-abortion activism is essentially patriarchal. It insists that the woman’s egg, once fertilized, is immediately a person and that the woman loses control over her body by virtue of being impregnated by her husband’s sperm. It is men who dictate to the woman that she must carry the fertilized egg to term, must be a mother once impregnated by a man. For extreme anti-abortionists, even a woman who has been raped or is in danger of losing her life if she tries to give birth must be forced to bear the child. A rapist can make a woman be a mother whether she likes it or not, because his maleness gives him prerogatives not withdrawn by his mere criminality.
The Schiavo case, in contrast, appears on the surface to be anti-patriarchal. The activists in this case attempted to deprive Ms. Schiavo’s husband of his status as her legal guardian and of his ability to decide, with the physicians, not to make heroic efforts to keep her alive in a vegetative state. The activists sided with his mother-in-law, thus appearing to support matriarchy over patriarchy. Why Tom DeLay thought that would be a way of beating up on the Democratic Party is a great mystery. But an even greater mystery is why his conscience would let him play politics with an issue that had touched him personally, when he let his own brain-damaged father die.
Bush then pitifully segues into the sharply critical report on US intelligence failures, which pointed out that the administration was absolutely and completely wrong about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction.
“The work of our intelligence community is extremely difficult work. Every day, dangerous regimes are working to prevent us from uncovering their programs and their possible relationships with terrorists.
BUSH: And the work intelligence men and women do is, by nature, secret, which is why the American people never hear about many of their successes. I’m proud of the efforts of our intelligence workers. I am proud of their commitment to the security of our country. And the American people should be proud too.
And that’s why this report is important. It’ll enable these fine men and women to do their jobs in better fashion, to be able to more likely accomplish their mission, which is to protect the American people. And that’s why I’m grateful to the commission for this hard work.”
It is like a parody of himself. He stresses that intelligence work is a) hard and b) secret.
That is supposed to make it all right that we sent a high-tech army into a poor, weak country and turned it into a failed state, killing 40,000 innocent Iraqis and suffering over 1500 coalition troops dead and over 10,000 US troops wounded, many maimed for life, and spending $300 billion on it? For no reason? When the poor weak state did not in fact have the weapons of mass destruction that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz insisted it had? When they bullied anyone who questioned their evidence for all this, and got their billionnaire buddies who own the media to have their anchors and editorialists also bully any dissidents?
Because intelligence work is hard and secret?
How does Bush square all the violence he has unleashed in the world with his praise of “life?” What is the link between war-mongering and being “pro-life?”
It turns out that anti-abortionism is not about life at all. It is about social control. It helps establish a hierarchical society in which men are at the pinnacle and women kept barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Likewise, the Schiavo case was in part about the religious Right dictating to Michael Schiavo how he must lead his private life.
This campaign is not really about life at all, as the examples of the raped woman or the woman whose pregnancy puts her life in danger demonstrate. It is about control, and the imposition of a minority’s values on others.
And that is why the Iraq war is the perfect symbol for the anti-abortionists. Colonial conquest is always a kind of rape, but now the conquered country must bear the fetus of Bush-imposed “liberty” to term. The hierarchy is thus established. Washington is superior to Baghdad, and Iraq is feminized and deprived of certain kinds of choices.
And that is also how the Schiavo case makes sense in the end, because the religious Right feminized Michael Schiavo, made him into the pregnant woman seeking an “abortion,” and wished to therefore deprive him of choice in the matter. If hierarchy is gendered, then the persons over which control is sought are always in some sense imagined as powerless women. Powerful non-fundamentalist men and uppity Third World countries that won’t do as they are told are ultimately no different from feminist women seeking an abortion. All must be subdued, in the view of the Christian Right.
It is about hierarchy, power and control. It is not about life.