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O'Reilly: The Democrats Acted Like Wimps in the Schiavo Case

Reported by Marie Therese - March 22, 2005

Yesterday (3/21/05) Bill O'Reilly checked in with his opinion on the Terri Schiavo case. In his Talking Points Memo O'Reilly straddled the fence. He made his opinion very clear: "Talking Points believes both sides are wrong. The key piece of evidence is provided by Florida doctors who examined Terri Schiavo and explained her condition to the court, quote: 'Theresa's brain has deteriorated because of the lack of oxygen it suffered a the time of her heart attack...at this point, much of her cerebral cortex is simply gone and has been replaced by cerebral spinal fluid. Medicine cannot cure this condition. Unless an act of God, a true miracle, were to recreate her brain, Theresa will always remain in an unconscious, reflexive state, totally dependent on others...' Terri's family, of course, is willing to live with that and care for her. Her husband is not." (Pay attention to Bill's later comments about the costs of her care.)

But, being in thrall to the FOX News pro-GOP message, O'Reilly then went on to bash the liberal media and the Democrats who stayed home and didn't vote.

O'REILLY: Enter Congress, who's passed a law affirming the family's right to federal protection. So now the feds will decide the case. Predictably, the left-wing press is aghast. Today the L.A. Times blamed the whole thing on those radical right-wingers, calling the new law a "constitutional coup d'etat." But a funny thing happened on the way to Liberalville. Every one of the liberal senators failed to show up to block the law. And any of them could have. All of them sat it out in a stunning display of partisan silence. That happened, despite a new ABC News poll that says a majority of Americans agree that Terri Schiavo's 15 years of technological life should be ended. In the end, that will happen, I believe. The medical evidence is just too overwhelming to justify keeping her on life support at taxpayer expense. But I'm glad Congress stepped up and voted to give her and her family every benefit of the doubt. All life is worthy. And that should be a defining message for America. And that's The Memo.

O'Reilly then interviewed Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Congressman Tom Feeney (R-FL) and later former House Speaker Newt Gingrich about the no-show Democrats. Here are few interesting outtakes from those interviews:

Gary Ackerman started off by stating that he didn't vote because "I just didn't want to participate in that circus. I just thought it was unconscionable for the Congress to insert itself into this debate. We are particularly unqualified to make that decision and to intrude ourselves into the lives of this family. My not voting was my commitment not to participate in this swamp."

O'Reilly then revealed a rather surprising lack of knowledge of civics:

O'REILLY: OK. Now all of the senators on the left, none of them showed up. Do you think that they have the same mindset as you? Is that what they're going to say?

ACKERMAN: Well, probably a lot of them were traveling. And I can't account for anybody else.

O'REILLY: No, they could have called in.

ACKERMAN: No, you can't call your vote in. You have to be there on the floor to vote.

O'REILLY: No, you — I understand that any of these senators could have blocked that vote.

ACKERMAN: You had to be there to do it.

O'REILLY: Or have somebody in your stead, I believe.

ACKERMAN: No. It has to be a senator.

O'REILLY: Alright, so somebody would have had to change their vacation plans to come back and make a statement.

ACKERMAN: Well, a lot of them weren't on vacation. They just didn't want to be there. (End excerpt.)

Ackerman was in a strong position here, having made a definite statement about why he didn't attend. Then, as so often happens with the "opposition" voices on FOX, he weakened his case by admitting that the Democrats didn't show up because "It was an agreement, Bill, between the parties both in the House and the Senate that everybody knew where the votes were and rather than just bring everybody back, it was just agreed to by consent to let it happen that way." And later in the interview there was this exchange where Ackerman gave away even more power:

O'REILLY: Then why didn't the Democratic senators make a stronger statement? The Hillarys, the Schumers, the Boxers, the Feinsteins?

ACKERMAN: Because a lot of people, my opinion, Bill...

O'REILLY: Yes, I mean, they didn't make any statement at all.

ACKERMAN: My opinion is because politically, it's a no-win situation.

O'REILLY: That's right. That's right. Exactly right. All right.

Here we see how Ackerman gave O'Reilly an opening the size of a truck and the Billster drove right through it. By the end of the segment Bill was nicely positioned to scold the Democrats claiming "You're right. But they should put their beliefs above politics."

However, with the Florida Republican Congressman the discourse was different. Because the right wingers have engaged in a concerted, ongoing attack on "activist" judges, no matter what happens in the Schiavo case, they can find a scapegoat. They've demonized the husband, Michael Schiavo, by spreading lies. They've demonized Florida Judge Greer (a devout Southern Baptist conservative) as an "activist" judge. And, trust me, when the federal judge - a Clinton appointee - upholds Greer's ruling, he will be labeled an "activist" judge as well.

Here's a transcript of the rest of the interview. (Note how Feeney resorts to the usual language of hyperbole to tug at the emotional heartstrings of the FOX viewers.)

FEENEY: Well, I think that my friend Gary's wrong. Congress didn't insert itself into this fight. The constitution, which guarantees everybody due process before their life is taken away from them by government action, both in the Fifth Amendment to the constitution, and later also in the 14th Amendment, means that all we are asking is what every convicted felon, including heinous (which he pronounced "hy-ee-nis") murderers and rapists who are on death row, have an absolute right to appeal to a federal court to determine whether their constitutional U.S. rights or statutory rights have been denied. That's what this [is] about. As you have pointed out, this is not Congress deciding whether she lives or dies, whether she gets water or not. But before we actually have to watch as a nation this poor, innocent woman, whose family is begging to take care of her --die of thirst and starvation, we want to ensure that a federal judge reviews the facts in a de novo hearing and determines whether or not her due process will otherwise be violated.

O'REILLY: OK, so it's due process under the law. Take it out of the state. And I understand there was an undercurrent — we don't want these state activist judges deciding life and death. Was there an element of that in there?

FEENEY: Absolutely. Look, this judge [Greer] not only has ignored Congress when we issued a subpoena, both the United States Senate, United States House, he's ignored Governor Bush here in Florida. He's ignored the state House of Representatives, the state Senate of Florida. And the bottom line is that this judge has basically set himself up supporting only one person's testimony about her intent, while her mother, her father, her sister and brothers and others are pleading to allow them to take care of her for the rest of her life.

[COMMENT: Here's what the St. Petersburg Times wrote about Judge George Greer:

Deputies who fear for his safety escort him to and from work.

That's life these days for Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George W. Greer, who has ruled that Terri Schiavo's feeding tube could be removed, allowing her to die. Greer sits at the epicenter of the international debate over Schiavo's life, a judge who answers critics with the only rebuttal allowed by rules of judicial conduct:

Silence.

"The really difficult part of this job," Greer said, "is that you can't defend yourself."

The world knows so much about Schiavo's life, but little about the 63-year-old Greer.

A balding man whose voice has no trace of his native Brooklyn, he travels to unwind and jogs to stay fit. He has run two marathons, though the last was 20 years ago. Friends say his eyesight is awful. It's so bad, in fact, that he doesn't drive.

And Greer, vilified by many religious protesters, is a church regular. He also is a conservative Republican in a state whose conservative Republican governor tried to overturn one of Greer's orders.

"George is the religious right," said lawyer David Kurland, a longtime friend.

Friends say Greer's intellect is perfectly formed to withstand the very tempest he now faces. Always calm, not prone to mood swings or flares of temper, unerringly polite, he is not easily ruffled, they say.

But the criticisms sting, friends say. His relationship with his church, for example, has changed.

"He's been through a lot of storms in his life," said Mary Repper, a political consultant and friend. "This is just another one. George takes everything in stride."

Just don't ask Greer about his college housemate Jim Morrison, the legendary front man of the rock 'n' roll group the Doors.

Nobody took Morrison in stride, not even Greer."

For more information on Greer's experiences with Morrison, click on the link above.]

O'REILLY: Yeah, you want to reply to that?

ACKERMAN: Yeah, I want to reply to that. First, of all, we have set a very dangerous precedent. There is a system in place. And it's absolutely hypocritical for the political party that talks about states rights, to suddenly ignore states rights, that say that the federal government or federalism has no business in this kind of business. For the party that says that they are in favor of less government, not intrusive federal government into the lives of people, get the government off our backs, these are the same people that pulled the feeding tubes out of tens of thousands of people who are on Medicare and Medicaid by not fully funding it. This is absolutely absurd.

O'REILLY: I mean, I was with you until you took the Medicaid cheap shot. I'm...

ACKERMAN: Yes, well, it's a cheap shot, but...

O'REILLY: I was with you until then.

ACKERMAN: ...but it's true. The same people who talk about states rights...

O'REILLY: Yes, but wait, wait, look...

ACKERMAN: ...this is the process. Bill, if two people get divorced, and they don't like the state court ruling...

O'REILLY: Yes.

ACKERMAN: ...as to who gets custody of the children, should they be able to go to their Congressman and let their Congressman decide?

O'REILLY: No, but this is life and death.

ACKERMAN: It's absurd.

O'REILLY: This is a bigger issue. Every American is supposed to have the right to be protected by the federal government, not the state government. That's the federal government's mandate. Go ahead.

FEENEY: Hey, Bill, I'd like you to ask my friend Gary whether he believes — I'm a big 10th Amendment advocate, big federalism fan, big states' rights fan. But I want you to ask him whether he believes that because I believe in federalism I have to say that individuals are not protected under the 5th and the 14th Amendments' due process clause. That would be an extraordinary thing for somebody as bright as Gary, although he doesn't actually like what the constitution says often, be an extraordinary thing for him to assert. We absolutely believe in all the Bill of Rights in the constitution. And we believe that Ms. Schiavo has the right to have a federal judge determine whether the Fifth Amendment, or the 14th, or any other part of the constitution has been violated.

O'REILLY: And also her family also has protection under, I think, the federal constitution. But look...

ACKERMAN: But there's no way that even a federal judge, no matter — see, you don't like the venue that it's in. So you want to switch the venue. You don't like the decision of the court. And that's the system for the state to decide. So you want to switch which court it goes to. It's basically venue shopping. This is a tragic situation, no matter what happens and where this goes down. This poor woman and that family's suffering...

O'REILLY (overtalks last 7 words): Then why didn't the Democratic senators make a stronger statement? The Hillarys, the Schumers, the Boxers, the Feinsteins?

ACKERMAN: Because a lot of people - my opinion, Bill...

O'REILLY: Yes, I mean, they didn't make any statement at all.

ACKERMAN: My opinion is because politically, it's a no-win situation.

O'REILLY: That's right. That's right. Exactly right. All right.

ACKERMAN: And a Republican memo leaked from the Senate saying push this issue, because it will give us a political advantage.

O'REILLY: You're right. But they should...

ACKERMAN: The Democrats understood math, if nothing else.

O'REILLY: They should put their beliefs above politics.

ACKERMAN: That's...

O'REILLY: Congressman Feeney, I got one more question for you.

ACKERMAN: ...[indecipherable] Senate or House, it's not going to be asked this...

O'REILLY: Let me ask you one more question.

FEENEY: Sure.

O'REILLY: Look, the federal judge is going to make his determination probably tomorrow on this. He's finished his hearings. He's going to think it over. There's no doubt in my mind, looking at the medical records, this woman is not coming back. Taxpayer expense now, OK, $80,000 at least a month. Come on. You know? What are we doing here? We can't do this for every single American. Can't do it.

FEENEY: Well — no. And this is an extraordinary case. The bill itself, of course I was there and read the bill, it basically makes clear we are not setting precedent in any other case. Here we have a husband whose sole word about her intention has been taken by the court as gospel, even though her parents and her brothers and sisters...

O'REILLY: No, I got the — I got that. But what I think — I think the federal judges...

ACKERMAN: Don't you believe in the sanctity of marriage? What happened to the sanctity of marriage? They're still married!

O'REILLY: Well, that's a constitutional question, too. It will be soon.

FEENEY: Of course he now has a common-law wife as well, and two children.

O'REILLY: All right. All right, guys...

ACKERMAN: We can't step into every case in America that has this tragedy.

O'REILLY: We've got to bring the curtain down. But I will make a prediction that the federal judge will uphold the state. Gentlemen, thank you.

Now, a few quotes from the later segment with Newt Gingrich:

O'REILLY: ...barring a miracle - and I mean a true miracle like Jesus comes down and "Lazarus come forth", Terri Schiavo rises up - there's no way the brain can regenerate so the woman can be cognizant. So, once you have that, sooner or later you have to make a decision, because it's taxpayer money that's keepin' her alive right now.

GINGRICH: Well, except I think there's a big difference between heroic medicine, where you're keeping somebody alive with artificial lungs or artificial heart and the simple act of food and water. And I think that we are a wealthy enough society that we ought to think long and hard before we start establishing sort of sanitary standards for killing people ...

O'REILLY (interrupts): Alright, that's a good point, but how many Americans are we gonna do this to? If the woman can't drink water or feed herself, which she can't ...

GINGRICH: My understanding ..

O'REILLY: How many do you do it for?

[COMMENT: Note below how Gingrich does not answer the question, but redirects viewer anger back to the judge.]

GINGRICH: My understanding is the judge even ruled that they could not give her water without the tube, that she was cut off totally, as I understand it, even from water being given to her.

O'REILLY: ...I don't have any sympathy for this judge [Greer]. He's an activist judge and that's why the Congress got him out of the picture. I mean, this has to go back to the resentment about gay marriage, other decisions that are being made unilaterally, pledge of allegiance, ten commandments, by judges.

GINGRICH: But, wait, but I think it's also a question of being very cautious about rushing into killing patients, based on what is in effect hearsay. I'm sympathetic to the pain on both sides of thsi particular case, but I'm also very troubled when you look at, for example, in Holland where assisted suicide and euthanasia are now becoming sort of routine behaviors.

O'REILLY: Even for babies ...

{COMMENT: Do you think Bill was really thinking of little babies in Holland or was he, perhaps, aware of Sun Hudson in Texas? Gingrich sidestepped the comment neatly and, for the briefest moment, I though Newt's next words were actually directed at O'Reilly personally as a warning to be more careful in his choice of words.]

GINGRICH: .. and I think that raises a lot of questions that you really have to be careful about and I think we as a country are wrestling with these kinds of issues.

O'Reilly and Gingrich briefly discussed the fact that they each have signed living wills. However, Gingrich was quick to note that "...living wills are about heroic measures. They're not about something as simple as food."

O'REILLY: But 15 years is a long, long time ...

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