The Culture of Life Top Ten

In the wake of the Terri Schiavo case, we've been hearing a lot about the so-called "culture of life." Christian conservatives use the term to refer to God's wish that we preserve all human lives, especially those more vulnerable than our own. In practice, however, it applies to a surprisingly stingy range of concerns: abortion, euthanasia, and stem cell research.

Conservatives have been very effective in past years in coming up with emotionally-laden phrases that are at best disingenuous and at worst outright lies. Witness "weapons of mass destruction," "partial birth abortion," "ownership society," and "freedom on the march." But their newest buzzphrase is perhaps the most galling.

Consider the opposite: who in their right minds would be on record supporting a "culture of death"? Well, the Nazis, that's who, say culture-of-lifers, and if you disagree with them on their key issues, you might as well sign up for the Hitler Youth. Just as incredible is their invocation of the 14th Amendment. Initially passed to support the rights of freed slaves after the Civil War, culture-of-lifers have expanded its protection of "life, liberty, [and] property" outwards to fetuses and women in persistent vegetative states. Don't agree? Well, then perhaps you should start shopping around for a plantation and some cotton fields as well.

The problem with the "culture of life" argument is that, like any of these phrases, its vagueness allows you to define it however you want. Is it any coincidence that its application happens to gel with the core issues of those who created it? Rather than dismiss the argument, however, progressives should hold culture-of-lifers to their word.

At minimum, a true "culture of life" would support the following ten positions:

1. Withdraw the Troops

More than 1,500 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq, along with tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians (some estimates are as high as 100,000.) Meanwhile, we're hunkering down building long-term military bases and sending more troops. How many more soldiers have to die before we set a timetable for bringing them home?

2. Stop the Death Penalty

Fifty-nine prisoners were executed last year, 23 of them in Texas alone. Yet study after study has shown the death penalty to be unequally applied by race, and hundreds of inmates have been found innocent at the eleventh hour. If we are all created in God's image, then it is up to God, not us, to deal the ultimate in punishment.

3. Pass Effective Gun Control Laws

More than 80 Americans are killed by firearms each day. Yet Congress has made it easier for criminals to get their hands on weapons -- most recently with the repeal of the assault weapons ban -- instead of following the lead of states like Massachusetts and New York, which have passed tougher laws and decreased handgun deaths.

4. Fund Social Services

Hundreds of homeless people, many of them war veterans, die on the streets each year because they can't gain access to basic services such as housing and health care. A truly compassionate person would fight against Bush's mean-spirited budget that cuts Medicaid benefits, veterans‚ health care, community services block grants, and other life-saving programs in favor of tax cuts for the rich.

5. Create Universal Health Care for Children

The U.S. remains the only industrial nation not to provide health care for all its citizens. At the very least, we could coverage to the most vulnerable among us. Meanwhile, our infant mortality rate recently rose for the first time in four decades, to 28,000 deaths a year.

6. Research Alternative Energy

It's a fact that access to the world's oil has fueled conflict in the Middle East for years. Developing wind and solar power could be the best protection we have against more of our soldiers dying overseas in the future. At the same time, reducing greenhouse gases could slow global warming, held responsible for the increasing severity of natural disasters like the Southeast Asian tsunami that claimed the lives of 175,000 people (with another 100,000 missing).

7. Investigate Prisoner Abuses

While the face of abuse of foreign detainees are those revolting pictures of torture from Abu Ghraib, even more disturbing stories of prisoners dying while in custody have trickled out of Iraq and Afghanistan. A true culture of life would conduct a full investigation into the abuse, with those responsible being held to account.

8. Support AIDS Clinics Abroad

In Bush's 2003 State of the Union, he pledged $15 billion to combat AIDS in Africa -- since then not only has the program been under-funded, but the majority of it has gone into non-generic drug treatment and abstinence-only prevention programs. With more than 3 million HIV/AIDS deaths in Africa a year, a truly compassionate AIDS policy would work immediately with the United Nations programs that have proven the most effective against the disease.

9. Implement a Fair Guestworker Program

Last year, more than 300 undocumented migrants died crossing the border to work in the U.S. There is no getting around the fact that these workers from Mexico and other countries are essential to the functioning of our economy. A fair guestworker program would not only recognize the contributions of these workers, but also prevent needless deaths.

10. Join the International Criminal Court

Ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and genocide are alive and well in the world, in places like Kosovo, Rwanda, and most recently the Sudan. Yet the U.S. is one of only a handful of countries (including China and Israel) that refuse to join the International Criminal Court. Last week, over our country's objections, the United Nations finally referred to the ICC the case of Darfur, where an estimated 300,000 Sudanese have been brutally killed.

Together, these issues account for the needless deaths of tens of thousands of people a day. A culture that valued their lives is one we could all celebrate.

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