Fleeing from the scene

The president celebrates Easter with the troops, putting some distance between himself and the right-wing culture warriors in Florida.

By Tim Grieve
Published March 28, 2005 2:59PM (EST)

Republicans in Washington would probably like the Terri Schiavo case to go away now, and quickly. The House committee that subpoenaed Schiavo to keep her alive a week ago has quietly dropped the matter, and the White House appears to be putting out the story that the president never wanted to get involved in the case in the first place.

Part of the pull-back stems from the poll numbers: Republicans thought they had a sure-fire winner in the Schiavo case, but nearly 70 percent of the public says that it was wrong for Congress and the president to intervene. But part of the distancing must relate to the ugly scenes still playing out in the streets near Schiavo's hospice bed. The situation there has grown so tense that even members of Schiavo's family have asked their supporters to start going home. Arrests have been made -- some hostile -- and police have been forced to close a school near the hospice. Having vilified Michael Schiavo, dehumanized the judges who had heard the case and all but deified Terri Schiavo, are Republicans beginning to think that they might be held responsible if those whose passions they have inflamed take the law into their own hands?

At the very least, the scene outside the hospice isn't exactly the carefully controlled image that the White House likes to have associated with this president. While the president spent Easter with troops at Fort Hood, the warriors in the culture war he's fighting manned the frontlines in Pinellas Park. The Miami Herald describes the scene:

"Moments after a solemn sunrise Mass ended, two pastors were arrested for attempting to take Holy Communion to Schiavo, and demonstrators in wheelchairs splayed themselves across the hospice driveway, yelling, 'We're not dead yet!' Two protesters began hurling invectives at on-site police, prompting Schiavo's younger brother, Bobby Schindler, to confront them and urge quiet.

"'We're not going to solve this problem today by getting arrested,' Schindler said, above the shouts of the two men. 'We can change the laws. But we're not going to do that today and getting arrested doesn't help. You're not speaking for our family.'

"One protester planted himself at a nearby busy intersection with megaphone, and spent seven hours decrying the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube. A truck plastered with outsized pictures of aborted babies was parked next to him.

"Closer to the hospice, the scene took on the feel of a religious revival as a local pastor played hymns on a keyboard and observers raised their hands and swayed. Two Roman Catholic activists from Pennsylvania marched with a two-foot high statue of the Virgin Mary.

"One protester, Meta Bruno, stood facing the police with a plastic washtub filled with 30 balls of aluminum foil at her feet. The aluminum was symbolic, she said, of the money Judas received for betraying Jesus. 'I'm afraid for their souls,' she said, nodding toward the police."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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