NYT: Santorum's 'Circuslike' Position on Terry Schiavo Right-to-Die Case 'Left Public Aghast'

The latest New York Times' "Long Run" profile on Saturday's front page featured Rick Santorum ("A Passionate Persona Forged in a Brutal Defeat"), accused by reporter Katharine Seelye of having "contributed to the circuslike atmosphere" in the case of Terry Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman involved in a controversial "right-to-die" case: "The spectacle left much of the public aghast."

One reason why the public felt that way was the coverage of liberal outlets like the Times, slanted heavily toward the view of Terry's husband Michael, who fiercely advocated pulling the plug.

Rick Santorum’s prospects for re-election to the Senate were not rosy when friends and advisers urged him in 2005 not to risk making things worse.

Mr. Santorum, hurting politically in Pennsylvania because of his defense of the Iraq war and President George W. Bush, had written a book, “It Takes a Family.” It was a blistering attack on liberal “elites” and what he saw as their moral relativism as well as “radical feminists” who, he said, had devalued mothers who preferred staying home rather than going to work.


His loss, by 17.4 percentage points, was the biggest for any incumbent senator in Pennsylvania since at least the Civil War, according to G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin and Marshall College. That eyepopping margin is the chief reason that few people took Mr. Santorum seriously last year when he started running for president. How could he get elected anywhere after he had lost his own state so lopsidedly?

Mr. Santorum says he was caught in “a meltdown year” for Republicans, both in Pennsylvania and nationally. That was certainly true. In Pennsylvania, they lost most offices, including four Congressional seats. In Washington, they lost the House and control of the Senate.

But if the climate was harsh, Mr. Santorum was part of it. Always brash, he had become a more rancorous figure since he last faced the voters in 2000. He was No. 3 in his party’s leadership and responsible for its messaging, which often meant either defending Mr. Bush or going on the attack.

And he took high-visibility roles on divisive issues, including abortion, homosexuality and the right-to-die case of Terri Schiavo.


The wrenching Schiavo case helped escalate his role in the nation’s culture wars. Ms. Schiavo, 41, had been in a vegetative state for 15 years. Her husband wanted her feeding tube removed, saying she would not want to continue that way, while her parents opposed its removal, saying she showed signs of life. After multiple legal challenges, the tube was removed on March 18, 2005, under orders from a Florida judge.

Congress quickly passed a bill, co-sponsored in the Senate by Mr. Santorum and supported by Democrats, saying federal courts, which had refused to intervene, needed to review her case. Mr. Bush rushed back to Washington from vacation to sign it into law. She died 13 days after the tube was removed.

The spectacle left much of the public aghast. In a CBS poll, 82 percent of Americans said Congress and the president should have stayed out of the case. Mr. Santorum had gone further than most. Just before Ms. Schiavo died, he visited her hospice, met with her parents there and held a news conference. Critics said he contributed to the circuslike atmosphere.

Did liberals opposed to removing Schiavo's feeding tube, like Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader, and Sen. Tom Harkin, also "contribute to a circus-like atmosphere"? Or does that just apply to a Republican who may run against Obama?

TimesWatch 2012 Presidential New York Times Terry Schiavo Rick Santorum
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