St. Petersburg Times
Special report
Video report
  • For their own good
    Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
  • More video reports
Multimedia report
Print Email this storyEmail story Comment Email editor
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Your name Your email
Friend's name Friend's email
Your message

The fight isn't over for Gov. Bush

Published March 27, 2005

U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay may be the scariest Republican playing a leading role in the Terri Schiavo drama, but Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is no less of a true believer.

Some of the things Bush has done to intervene in the Schiavo case make him scary, too. He shares DeLay's contempt for an independent judiciary, constantly looking for ways to restrict the power of Florida courts, and in the "culture of life" he espouses, his concern seems to be primarily for the unborn and those kept alive by artificial means. He has little compassion for those in between.

Bush and DeLay differ more in style than substance.

DeLay is a nasty demagogue and political bully who smears and brutalizes his opponents - that's anyone who dares to disagree with him. His words poison any debate. In pushing legislation to "save" Terri Schiavo, he ranted about medical and legal "terrorism" and suggested that those who supported removing Schiavo's feeding tube were the same people who are out to destroy him and the conservative movement. DeLay wears the label "extremist" with pride. (We are left to wonder why he does not apply his religious convictions to his sleazy political ethics.)

You won't hear Jeb Bush carrying on like that. Elmer Gantry is not his style. No one has yet called him a political or religious extremist. But don't let his soft face and calm voice fool you. Bush, whose deeply held religious convictions appear sincere, is as passionately committed to the prolife agenda as DeLay and the religious fundamentalists who seem bent on trying to turn the GOP (Grand Old Party) into the POG (Party of God).

The Terri Schiavo story has been a personal tragedy and a political travesty. But for many Americans, it also has been an epiphany. Some of us didn't realize just how far so-called religious conservatives (some, not all) and their political allies, including Jeb Bush, would go in trying to impose their moral values on the rest of us. Or how little respect they have for the rule of law, expert medical opinion or the truth. Or how viciously they attack their opponents.

Bush trusts his state's courts in death-penalty cases. His main complaint is that they waste too much time giving death row inmates due process. But he doesn't trust the same courts to decide the fate of Terri Schiavo. Bush makes the preposterous claim that she has been denied due process. The governor and his brother, President Bush, say they believe in erring on the side of life. However, both have allowed the executions of men whose guilt was in serious doubt. In those cases, they chose to err on the side of death.

By the end of last week, after a string of legislative and legal defeats and after the White House and the Congress said there was nothing left for them to do, Jeb Bush refused to give up the fight. If he failed, his supporters reminded him, Terri Schiavo would die. Bush must have felt the pressure, for at one point last week he came close to provoking a constitutional crisis in Florida by suggesting that he was prepared to send in the state Department of Children and Families to take protective custody of Terri Schiavo in defiance of a court order. As part of this desperate stunt, he showed up at a news conference with a Florida neurologist active in Christian antiabortion groups to say Terri Schiavo's condition had been misdiagnosed, that she was not in a persistent vegetative state.

That the governor even entertained such a dangerous thought is chilling. It sounds like something Tom DeLay might try. A day later Bush came to his senses and said that while he would do everything "within my powers" to save the brain-damaged woman, he would not defy the courts. That sent religious conservatives into a rage. They descended on the governor's mansion in Tallahassee to demand that Bush ignore the law and take whatever action necessary to save Terri Schiavo before it was too late.

In a front-page story last week, the New York Times said Bush's intervention in the Schiavo case had "cemented the conservative and religious credentials of a man whose political pedigree is huge and whose political future remains a subject of intense speculation."

From what I know about the governor, I don't believe his intervention in this life-or-death case had anything to do with politics. I believe him when he insists he has no intention of running for president in 2008. But I also know Bush does not like to lose a political or legal fight, and that for him, Terri Schiavo's death will not be the end of the matter.

Philip Gailey's e-mail address is

[Last modified March 27, 2005, 00:34:19]

Share your thoughts on this story

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Subscribe to the Times
Click here for daily delivery
of the St. Petersburg Times.

Email Newsletters