Jun 20, 2005

"An undue eagerness to change the subject" [LINK]

Joan Didion wrote a rather thoughtful, if unoriginal piece in the New York Review of Books on some of the controversies surrounding the Terry Schiavo case that led it to become so heavily politicized. Strange wonder, then, that the promotional excerpt the NYR decided to run represented easily the most politically loaded paragraph of the article:

Many ordinarily obscured emotions surfaced during the weeks just before and after Theresa Schiavo's feeding tube was removed. I recall talking one night at dinner to a psychiatric social worker who said that six of her clients were speaking of little else. Among those who did not necessarily see the situation as one that required discussion with a professional therapist, the most common reaction seemed to be what they described as "disgust." Many people expressed "disgust" with the "carnival." They expressed "disgust" with the "sideshow," the "media circus," the calculated inflammation of anti-abortion sentiment outside the hospice. They expressed "disgust" with the nation's elected officials, the "self-righteous hypocrites" who were seen as showing an undue eagerness to change the subject, to turn away from those foreign or domestic adventures that could seem doubtful to even the most committed supporters.... It was perfectly clear that the elected officials in question were in fact trying to reap political benefit. On the other hand there was no novelty in this. Given the ample opportunities for disgust that the same elected officials had offered the country on a range of other issues, this expressed distress with what was essentially a civil rights intervention seemed unusual, excessive, even displaced.
That Republicans benefit from the anti-abortion sentiment resulting from the Schiavo case is arguable (by some accounts they actually took a public-opinion beating), but at best it's a specious cui bono argument that is without substance. Likewise the proposition that the Schiavo controversy offered a distraction from more important issues is itself a distraction. After all, any issue you don't want to confront is a distraction from your own pet cause. And does Didion — certainly one of our most skilled writers — really mean to imply that people who seemed the most concerned with Schiavo are those who are under a psychiatrist's care?

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