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Grumbling On The Right

Not all conservatives are happy with the decision by Congress and President Bush to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case. Some prominent conservatives, including a former Georgia congressman, said Tuesday the new law allowing a federal court review of the case is an example of the big government they have always opposed.

"To simply say that the 'culture of life,' or whatever you call it means that we don't have to pay attention to the principles of federalism or separation of powers is certainly not a conservative viewpoint," said former Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga.

Allan Lichtman, who chairs the history department at American University in Washington, said the intervention of Congress and Bush to try to overturn the decision by Schiavo's husband not to prolong her life is the antithesis of several conservative principles.

"It contradicts a lot of what those behind it say they believe: the sanctity of the family, the sacred bond between husband and wife, the ability of all of us to make private decisions without the hand of government intervening, deference to states and localities as opposed to the centralized government," said Lichtman.

Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped briefly. She can breathe on her own, but has relied on a feeding tube to keep her alive since.

The feeding tube was removed Friday under a Florida court order, but Congress passed a law Monday requiring a federal court review of the case in the hope that the judge hearing it would order the tube reinserted. U.S. District Court Judge James Whittemore of Tampa rejected the plea of Schiavo's parents to do that, as did a federal appeals court in Atlanta.

The case evolved into a cause for social "right to life" conservatives who oppose abortion and euthanasia. Bush justified the action, saying the case was complex but that it was better to err on the side of life.

But Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia voted against the legislation, saying it goes against the conservative principles of federalism.

"That the misfortunes of life vested upon Theresa Marie Schiavo are a human tragedy, no one can deny. I said my prayers, as did many Americans, as we attended religious services this Palm Sunday," he said. "I believe it unwise for the Congress to take from the state of Florida its constitutional responsibility to resolve the issues in this case."

David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, says he has mixed feelings about what Congress and Bush did.

Conservatives "who questioned the wisdom of the federal government reaching down and interfering with the state courts have a very valid point," Keene said. "In Congress, most conservatives have said, 'We're cognizant of that fact and that's why we have done this so narrowly because we don't think there's another choice.' But those who are concerned about precedent should be concerned about it."

Julian E. Zelizer, a Boston University history professor who specializes in congressional trends, said a conservative Republican movement that "built itself in the 1970s around attacking government has become the party of big government since 2000."

"Starting with the war against terrorism and climaxing with Congress intervening in this case, we see a GOP that is quite comfortable flexing the muscle of Washington, and a Democratic Party which is increasingly finding itself in favor of limiting government," Zelizer said.

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