Party of let’s pretend

Anyone would think the Republicans had lost the 2004 elections, and the 2002 elections, and the 2000 elections. From every corner, concerned “friends” of the party rise to offer “friendly” advice.

Norman Lear, who produced all those critically acclaimed issue-confronting heroine-gets-an-abortion ‘70s sitcoms that seem a lot more dated than “The Beverly Hillbillies” these days, has now produced a People For The American Way ad in which a man who identifies himself as a “common-sense Republican” objects to any attempt to end the Democratic filibuster of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees. As it turns out the “common-sense Republican” has so much common sense he’s an official of a union that endorsed John Kerry.

Then there’s the 59 striped-pants colossi of the Nixon-Ford-Reagan State Department who sent a letter to the Senate calling on it to reject John Bolton’s nomination as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. According to the Associated Press report, the signatories include:

“Princeton Lyman, ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria under Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; Monteagle Stearns, ambassador to Greece and Ivory Coast in the Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations; and Spurgeon Keeny Jr., deputy director of the Arms Control Agency in the Carter administration.”

Princeton Lyman? Monteagle Stearns? Spurgeon Keeny Jr.? If Norman Lear’s shows had wacky characters like that, they would still be in syndication. It’s a good rule of thumb that anything to which 59 economists, bureaucrats or diplomats are prepared to sign an open letter objecting is by definition a good thing. But that goes double when the 59 panjandrums lined up against you are Princeton Monteagle Jr, President Nixon’s ambassador to the Spurgeon Islands; Spurgeon Monkfish III, President Ford’s ambassador to the Lyman Islands; Dartmouth Monticello IV, President Johnson’s personal emissary to His Serene Highness the Monteagle of Keeny; Columbia Long-Playing-Album, the first diplomat to be named by President Carter to the State Department’s Name Control Agency; and Vasser Peachy-Keeny, the first woman to be named Vasser Peachy-Keeny. One sees their point, of course: Let a fellow called “John” Bolton become ambassador and next thing you know Earl and Bud will want the gig.

Even former Sen. John Danforth, who should know better, got in on the act, taking half a page in the New York Times to give the Full Monteagle to the “religious right.” Blog maestro Andrew Sullivan decided America was witnessing a “conservative crack-up” over Terri Schiavo and the embrace of her cause by extreme right-wing fundamentalist theocrat zealots like, er, Jesse Jackson and Ralph Nader.

Mr. Sullivan was last predicting a “conservative crack-up” during the impeachment era, on the grounds (if I recall correctly) that Republican moralizing would dramatically cut into Strom Thurmond’s share of the homosexual vote. In the 1990s, the Weekly Standard ran innumerable special editions devoted to the subject: Conservative Crack-Up; Conservative Crack-Up 2; Conservative Crack-Up — The Musical; Abbott And Costello Meet the Conservative Crack-Up; Conservative Crack-Up On Elm Street; Four Weddings And A Conservative Crack-Up; Rod Stewart Sings Timeless Favorites From The Great Conservative Crack-Up; etc.

The point to remember when Hollywood producers, State Department diplomats, respected senators, gay mavericks, the New York Times and the rest of the media offer conservatives advice is simple: As that great self-esteem volume has it, He’s Really Not That Into You. The preferred media Republican is an amiable loser: the ne plus ultra of Republican candidates was the late Fred Tuttle, the lame, wizened idiot dairy-farmer put up for a joke against Sen. Patrick Leahy in Vermont.

But, if they can’t get that lucky, the media will gladly take a Bob Dole type, a decent old no-hoper who goes down to predictable defeat and gets rave reviews for being such a good loser. Republicans could well run into trouble in 2006 and 2008, but for not being conservative enough on issues like immigration rather than for anything the media claim they’re cracking up over.

The notion, for example, that poor Terri Schiavo will cost Republicans votes a year and a half from now is ludicrous. The best distillation of the pro-Schiavo case was made by James Lileks, the bard of Minnesota, responding to the provocateur Christopher Hitchens’ dismissal of her as a “nonhuman entity.” “It is not wise,” wrote Mr. Lileks, “to call people dead before they are actually, well, dead. You can be ‘as good as dead’ or ‘brain dead’ or ‘close to death,’ but if the heart beats and the chest rises, I think we should balk at saying this constitutes dead, period.”

Just so. Once you get used to designating living, breathing bodies as “nonhuman entities,” it’s easy to bandy them ever more carelessly — as they do in the eminently progressive Netherlands, where their relaxed attitude to pot and prostitution led to a relaxed attitude to euthanasia which looks like relaxing the Dutch people right out of business. It’s all done quietly over there — no fuss, no publicity; you go in to hospital with a heavy cold and you’re carried out by the handles. (By “handles,” I mean a coffin, not a ceremonial phalanx of Monteagles and Princetons.)

But that’s not the American way. This is a legalistic society, where grade schools can’t have kids knocking a ball around without getting a gazillion dollars of liability insurance. I was in Price Chopper the other day and it had a little basket of Easter samples on display accompanied by a page of full print outlining the various subclauses of the company’s “tasting policy.”

That’s America. In Holland, you can taste a cookie without signing a legal waiver, and, if you get food poisoning, the doctor will discreetly euthanize you to spare your family the trauma of waiting six hours for an available stomach pump.

That’s not how the American cookie crumbles. Euthanasia here will be a 10-year court culminating in slow-motion public execution played out on the 24-hour cable channels.

The Republicans did the right thing here, and they won’t be punished for it by the electors. As with abortion, this is an issue where the public will move slowly but steadily toward the conservative position: Terri Schiavo’s court-ordered death will not be without meaning.

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