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Jeb Bush’s Behavior in the Terry Schiavo Case: Unworthy of a Governor — Or a President

| February 9, 2015

Terry Schiavo before the cardiac arrest that ended her sentient life.

Terry Schiavo before the cardiac arrest that ended her sentient life.

By Martin Dyckman

If it’s too early to anoint a presidential front-runner among the Republicans, the national media are obviously treating Jeb Bush as one. Among the in-depth articles already up and running is a Boston Globe inquiry into his teenage years at the elite Phillips Academy nearly half a century ago.


Another is a biting review on Politico of Bush’s unprecedented interference in the tragedy of a brain-dead woman whose husband wanted to let her die.

The Globe article spoke of classmates who said they remembered him bullying smaller students. Bush said he didn’t remember that and was surprised to hear it.

No one today would confuse the Globe article’s indifferent, pot-smoking Andover freshman who nearly flunked out with the high-achieving policy wonk Bush became. But the campus bully would be familiar to people who knew him as governor, his only elected office.

He did not gracefully accept compromise, let alone defeat. The Terry Schiavo tragedy was a conspicuous example.

Nancy Argenziano was among the only 12 Republicans in the Florida Legislature to oppose Bush.

“He put us through hell with the Schiavo issues and that was despicable,” she said. “He is a spoiled man who has no empathy for anyone not born with a silver spoon.  I could never cast a vote for him.”

As many readers will recall, Schiavo was the young woman from St. Petersburg who had been brain-dead for 10 years, in a persistent vegetative state, since suffering a heart attack attributed to potassium imbalance from an eating disorder.

In 2000, Schiavo’s husband, Michael, obtained permission from Circuit Judge George Greer to remove the feeding tube that was keeping her corpse alive. Greer cited evidence that recovery was impossible and that she had expressly wished not to be kept alive in such a situation.

Theresa’s parents, devout Roman Catholics, fought the ruling through more than three years of unsuccessful appeals to state and federal courts, attracting a large and vocal right-to-life following that included Florida’s governor. Bush even filed a brief against Michael Schiavo in federal court. When that appeal failed and the feeding tube was removed, Bush asked the Legislature for a law to let him intervene directly.

The law, tailored to the Schiavo case, was enacted on Oct. 21, 2003, the day after it was introduced.

For the only time in Florida’s history, the state seized a patient from her guardian and caregivers. The feeding tube was reinserted.

After the Senate’s 23-15 vote, I went down from the press gallery to ask members about the pressures they had felt.

Argenziano was the senator from my district. The stricken look on her face spoke a thousand words. That one time, I addressed a legislator as a constituent rather than a journalist.

“Thank you,” I said.

She nodded and went to her office to await the hate mail.

“Yes, we had death threats,” she told me last week. “Also right-wing wackos wrote they hoped my son, and they knew his name, would be in Schiavo’s same condition.  One asked simply, ‘How is your son Joseph,’ trying to scare me.  A few wrote that they wished I got stomach cancer and died.  Wonderful Christians!

“I had to close my district and Tallahassee office because I was worried for my staff.  It was horrible. Jeb added to that insanity when he told his extreme followers that the Republicans who voted no are to blame, too.  I remember feeling at that time that he was going to get us killed.”

A circuit court found the law unconstitutional, and so did a unanimous Florida Supreme Court, 11 months later, ruling it offensive to “the fundamental constitutional tenet of separation of powers.” Bush had appointed two of the justices. The long legal record, the justices said, showed that Theresa Schiavo’s due process rights–the pretext for Bush’s intervention–had been respected at every step in every court.

“What is in the Constitution must always prevail over emotion. Our oaths as judges require that this principle is our polestar, and it alone,” the court said.

Bush appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to take the case.

That didn’t end it. Congressional Republicans took it on–one called it “a great political issue”–and George W. Bush, the president’s brother, signed a bill giving the parents a unique right to intervene in federal courts. A federal judge at Tampa refused to reopen the case. The feeding tube came out again and Schiavo neared death.

As the Politico article restates, Jeb Bush still wasn’t done. First, he had his Department of Children and Families attempt to intervene based on anonymous allegations of abuse. A court thwarted that, too.

An autopsy confirmed what doctors had told the courts: Schiavo’s brain had begun to disappear. There had never been a prospect of consciousness, let alone recovery.

Bush then asked a state attorney to investigate whether criminal conduct by Michael Schiavo might have harmed his wife 15 years before. The prosecutor absolved him.

Even if acting out of sincere religious conviction, Bush flouted the only principle–his state’s Constitution–that he was sworn to respect. His final action, inviting a criminal investigation of Michael Schiavo, was a vindictive act unworthy of the governor of a great state — or of a president.

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives near Waynesville, N.C.

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9 Responses for “Jeb Bush’s Behavior in the Terry Schiavo Case: Unworthy of a Governor — Or a President”

  1. Rick Gardner says:

    This is an excellent reminder of what kind of person Jeb Bush is.

  2. Sherry Epley says:

    Again, lest for forget! I’m certain Jeb hopes we all have! Horrendous behavior on Jeb Bush’s part. . . I would not vote for him in a million years!

  3. Obama 2015 says:

    Funny how Republicans fought to keep a woman alive because of the science of medicine. But when science says the earth is getting hotter or Stem Cells can solve illnesses it’s a crock.

    Yet another reason to vote Democrat and avoid the Bush Family. At least dad knew to leave Iraq.

  4. Nalla C. says:

    They had to torture this poor woman and her family because “abortion BAD”. Or something.

    This is, indeed, an excellent reminder of how unfit for any elected office Jeb Bush–not to mention anyone else in his family. If the ultimate choice ends up being Jeb vs Hillary, you can kiss this country goodbye, completely, because BOTH OF THEM are as crooked and corrupted as the day is long.

  5. YankeeExPat says:

    Let’s be honest here. The Evangelical Republicans couldn’t hold their noses and vote for a Mormon (Mitt Romney), what makes anyone believe they will vote for a Catholic (Jeb Bush).

    • Nalla C. says:

      Normally I would agree with you, but Hillary Clinton terrifies them enough that they’ll hold their nose and vote for Jebbie.

      As well she should, btw. I say that as a Democrat. Let me make it clear–Hillary Clinton will NEVER get my vote, nor will *anyone* named Bush. I know a lot of other Dems that feel the same way here in Florida. If there’s anyone in charge of the Florida Democratic Party, I sure as hell hope they’re paying attention. The party needs to put up others besides HRC, or they can count on low turnout and another bloodbath just like 2014. Most Dems are done with the fakes that have taken over the party allegedly of the Left.

  6. Lancer says:

    YankeeExPat….terrible, terrible example…because the American people have already voted for TWO Bushes.

    • YankeeExPat says:

      @ Lancer says:

      Do your research: George H. W. Bush is a Episcopalian
      George W. Bush is a United Methodist

      Jeb Bush is Roman Catholic
      ( Southern Babtist vote for a Catholic Canidate? , not bloody likely ! )

  7. wake up! says:

    Oh Please! After the last 2 Bush nightmares do we need to take a chance on number 3

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