Friday, June 17, 2005

When are apologies appropriate in politics - E.J. Dionne's Column is a bit short

In a column this morning in the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne suggests that Tom Delay and Bill Frist should apologize to the nation because the autopsy of Mrs Schaivo found a significantly diminished brain capacity. It is a good piece of rhetoric but fails on other grounds. In the Schaivo issue, I was offended by both sides because I think both sides lost sight of the key principle that Mrs. Schaivo was, even in diminished capacity, still a human being. The decision whether to kill her should not have been taken over by the apparatus of the state. Although ultimately the question is one which our laws have not caught up with our technologies (we can now sustain a person indefinitely - remember Mrs. Schaivo was not being sustained by extraordinary means). So yes, I think Frist and DeLay owe us an apology. But then all of the politicians who jabbered on this issue also owe us an apology for not dealing with a developing issue in an intelligent manner. Granted Mrs. Schaivo had diminished capacity but where is the appropriate place to draw the line? Does the "principle" established in this case allow a family to decide to terminate a child with an extremely low IQ? On the other hand does the GOP position require that we consistently take extraordinary means to sustain life no matter what the cost? There is a slippery slope here that I am quite uneasy about. The policy questions here are very tough - 1) When should another person have the ability to make a decision about the viability of another person's life - absent a consistent life sustaining technology intervening? 2) Is a feeding tube different than a respirator - or more importantly which technologies are appropriately turned off and which are not?

Then we get to Dick Durbin. Durbin this week called Gitmo a "gulag." Doesn't that also deserve an apology? In the first instance, both the right and the left (but mostly the right) interposed public policy into an area where fundamental issues are unsettled in a way that did not treat the object of their quest with dignity. In the second instance, a US Senator in the second role of the minority made knowingly false accusations trying to undermine the president. If Dionne were being balanced he would ask for an apology from both. The character of political rhetoric turns many voters off - the extreme statements on important issues treat the voters like buffoons - but make the politicians look like them. Dionne's last line in the piece should be read broadly - "No, we should not move on. We should remember that some politicians will say whatever is necessary to advance their immediate purposes. Apologies, anyone?"

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