Did Jeb Bush Betray Terri Schiavo By Obeying the Law?

The world-view of Christian Right folk is different from mine or yours. And despite the longing of the MSM and maybe even some in the Republican Establishment that they just go away, they haven’t and won’t. And every four years they play a very special role in the GOP presidential nominating process, particularly in that political paradise made for them, Iowa, where low Caucus participation levels and painstaking years of movement-building give them impossible-to-ignore power.

I say all that by way of introducing a piece from Michael Bender of Bloomberg Politics, who reports that Iowa cultural conservatives are still angry at Jeb Bush for failing to do enough to save Terri Schiavo in 2005.

Now that may well surprise you. Bush was, after all, the pol who placed the Schiavo case on the nightly news; engineered a crisis in his own state of Florida; and indirectly dragged the United States Senate and his brother the President of the United States into a family medical decision that became not a but the cause celebre for the anti-choice movement.

But to said movement, which had long made prophecies that baby-killing liberals would eventually move down the pre-ordained Nazi path of killing the old and the sick, what mattered wasn’t that Jeb nearly triggered a national constitutional crisis over Schiavo but that he ultimately let her die and then went on with his political career.

Standing at the pulpit of his Sioux City, Iowa, mega-church a decade ago, Reverend Cary Gordon wept over the death of Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman who had her feeding tubes removed more than 1,500 miles away in Florida. Now, the politician mostly closely associated with trying to keep her alive is coming to the state searching for support for his prospective presidential bid.

To much of the world, it appeared as if Jeb Bush, then the governor of Florida, stood his ground against those who wanted to take Schiavo off life support. But that’s not the picture that emerged for some in a crucial constituency in the state with the first presidential nominating contest.

“I’m displeased with Governor Bush,” Gordon said in an interview this week. “He could have informed law enforcement, called up the National Guard, or told the county sheriff’s office not to let it happen….”

“Just because a judge wants to kill somebody, that doesn’t give them the authority to do it,” said Brian Rosenor, a former chairman of the Woodbury County, Iowa Republicans. “Two state troopers in front of her door would have saved her life. Jeb Bush could have done more.”

Bush faced similar calls in 2005, after exhausting legal options. “I would have gone to the clinic myself, with the state troopers, and I would have talked to the folks there, saying, ‘We’re going to put the tube back in,’” Pat Buchanan said on MSNBC in 2005. “She’s going to be fed, and she’s going to be given water.”

This kind of talk creates a real problem for Jeb, because his efforts on behalf of Schiavo are supposed to be reassuring to the Christian Right folk who were so important to his brother’s political coalition, but who (ironically, given Jeb’s superior movement conservative credentials back when both Bush Boys were rising to power in the 1990s) don’t much trust his Common Core-loving, big-donor-coddling younger brother.

His allies were privately thrilled with tough stories recently in the Tampa Bay Times and Politico that revisited the family tragedy, showing how the hard-charging Bush combined policy with his religious and moral beliefs to nearly lead the state into a constitutional crisis. At the Conservative Political Action Conference last week outside of Washington, Bush told the crowd he had no regrets over the fight.

“Here was a woman who was vulnerable,” Bush said. “And the court, because of our laws, they were going to allow her to be starved to death. So we passed a law, Terri’s Law, that was a year later ruled unconstitutional. I stayed within the law, but I acted on my core belief that the most vulnerable in our society should be in the front of the line. They should receive our love and protection, and that’s exactly what I did.”

But that may not be enough for some social conservatives in Iowa.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the Iowa Caucuses, folks, where you just cannot pander too much.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.