Over the past several years, we've seen what I consider an odd phenomenon in this country when tragedy visits private citizens. I'm sure you've seen it in your community: a sudden outpouring of grief, usually in the form of teddy bears, flowers from the local Safeway, and poster-sized messages of condolence from people who are complete strangers to the victim(s) and the families. This is often accompanied by candlelight vigils and live interviews of teary-eyed women (usually; sometimes men) with their small children in tow.
In early 2002, two young teen-aged girls went missing just a few miles from where I live. Their bodies were eventually found, buried in the backyard of a man who had long been a suspect, and who had been accused previously by one of the girls of attempted rape. For nearly a year, our daily newspaper and local news stations covered the case almost nonstop, frequently relegating the war in Afghanistan to a lower status. Yes, it was local news, and yes, we do have provincial media in this part of the country, but we were also sending hometown soldiers off to war, and many of them weren't much older than these girls.
The abduction and murder of these two children was tragic, but had people cared about them in life, perhaps they wouldn't have been living in circumstances that led to the joint tragedy. At the risk of sounding callous and uncaring (neither of which I am) we were witnesses to what I think of as cheap grief. People were openly crying and wailing, getting their air time (one local television reporter became so personally involved with the families that she spoke at one of the funerals), and then going home to resume their daily routines.
Overlapping this local tragedy and the media and community involvement and exploitation of it, was the Florida case of Terri Schaivo. For 15 years, Mrs. Schaivo was on life support in what was characterized as a "persistent vegetative state," meaning there was no hope of recovery. When her husband petitioned to have her removed from life support, the largely Republican Florida State Legislature and then-Governor Jeb Bush intervened to prevent it. Once all legal avenues had been pursued in the State, the US Congress got involved, led by then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and joined by others in the Republican Party, along with pro-life and right-to-life groups. President George W. Bush returned from vacation to sign a bill into law in an attempt to prevent Mrs. Schaivo's husband from removing her life support. Eventually all options were exhausted and Mrs. Schaivo's life support was removed and she was allowed to die.
(In the interest of full disclosure, one of the senators who voted for the bill that Bush signed was Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL. During two presidential primary debates, he admitted that it was his biggest professional mistake and "...allowed Congress to intrude where it shouldn't have.")
Today, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) led a group of "teabaggers" to protest the Democratic health care plan now before Congress. Those who grieved so publicly and left signs, flowers, teddy bears and expressions of love for two girls they didn't know, live in prime "teabagger" territory, and are vocal in their opposition to health care reform.
Yesterday, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) released the Republican Party's health care plan. The proposed plan has been reviewed by the Congressional Budget Office and the CBO found that not only would it cut the deficit by about $36 billion less than the Democratic plan, but that it would also leave more people (52 million) uninsured in 2019 than are uninsured today (46 million); this contrasts with CBO's estimate of 19 million uninsured in 2019 under the Democratic plan. Where is the outpouring of interference that was accorded Terri Schaivo? Why are Congressional Republicans now so determined to "keep government out of our lives"?
I invite you, Dear Readers, to visit YouTube and watch and listen to all eight segments of Rep. Alan Grayson's (D-FL) reading of the numbers of people who have died in Republican Congressional Districts. Listen to the individual stories that he recounts. Listen to hear Republican Congressmen try to cut him off.
Then ask yourself what relationship these seemingly disparate events I've related here have to each other. And ask yourself as well why there are those in this country who are so willing to indulge in "cheap grief" and so unwilling to make a difference.
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