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To Err on the Side of Life?

If Bush represents those who would rather "err on the side of life," it puts anyone with other legitimate moral concerns in a defensive position, having to explain how they could possibly not want to "err on the side of life."
 
 
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This week's phrase: "to err on the side of life."

It's a Bush-ism that frames an important and complex ethical debate in simplistic terms of black-and-white absolutes; a variation of the either-you're-with-us-or-against-us philosophy.

The phrase ingeniously plays off a commonly accepted bit of wisdom – "to err on the side of caution." Take out "caution" and insert the politically charged word "life" as in "pro-life," and the GOP base is energized while putting the evil "liberals" on the defensive.

Somebody should buy a Guinness for whomever in the Bush camp conceived the shibboleth. "Brilliant!"

To err on the side of life...

The implied message is clear: If Bush represents those who would rather "err on the side of life" (whatever that means), it puts anyone with other legitimate moral concerns in a defensive position, having to explain how they could possibly not want to "err on the side of life."

You'd have to be some kind of evil demon, like "the terrorists," to not want to "err on the side of life," right? After all, what kind of sicko would want to err on the side of death?

Hence, supporters of Terri Schiavo's parents accuse her husband of wanting to "kill" his wife so he can get the life insurance money.

The many Americans concerned about our conservative Congress' medical meddling are painted as people who want to "starve to death" a disabled person, which conjures up images of Nazi Party members.

Of course, such cynical, paranoid analysis misrepresents those who are legitimately worried that this could set a precedent, giving Uncle Sam the authority to trap people, against their wishes, in a vegetative state, not caring a whit about quality of life.

Besides, to accuse as wicked those who do not want to "err on the side of life" in this particular case is blatantly hypocritical and self-serving.

Why? Well, let's flip the question.

How come those protesting err-on-the-side-of-lifers are willing to commit civil disobedience and break the law by bringing Terri some water in her hospital bed, but don't err on the side of the life when it comes to the death penalty question?

Have you seen the number of people who have been released from death row after having their convictions overturned by DNA evidence? How come "pro-life" Christians don't demand that their Christian president reconsider capital punishment on the grounds that it is always better to "err on the side of life?"

What about passing legislation requiring automakers to manufacture cars that run on something other than gas or, at the very least, make more fuel-efficient engines? Wouldn't that be to "err on the side of life?"

How about tackling America's alarming child poverty problems? Wouldn't that be to "err on the side of life?" One in five American children live in poverty, which means There are millions of kids going to bed hungry every night as programs that assist some of these children are being slashed to pay for tax cuts.

Ministers of Market Fundamentalism preach tax cuts as the balm to heal America's economic woes. The kids? I guess they'll just have to wait until the "trickle down" makes it all the way down to them years down the line, just in time to drown in the rising tide that lifts all yachts.

What about those who supported the president's decision to "pre-emptively" invade Iraq? Why don't they seem to consider the possibility that just maybe those who oppose U.S. policy in Iraq are people who simply want to "err on the side of life?"

This is a classic case of blind men in a room with an elephant. One grabs the trunk and insists the animal is a snake. The other grabs the elephant's ears and is certain the animal is a bird of some sort. You know the parable.

We're all holding different parts of the elephant and insisting our narrow description is the one absolute truth.

Where's the leader we were all promised? If Bush is a plain-speaking "uniter, not divider" why is it that half of America's voters oppose his administration, along with the majority of the 6 billion people on this planet, according to numerous world opinion surveys?

A national discussion about end-of-life issues is too important of a conversation for us to allow ideologues to hog the microphone.

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff reporter and a syndicated columnist.