Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Media Log goes conservative! I'll try to avoid going off on any Gregg Easterbrook-style benders. But three stories in the news this morning put me on the "wrong" side, and as we all know, three makes a trend.

1. Good for Jeb Bush. Florida's governor reacted promptly to legislation authorizing him to order that Terry Schiavo be fed. Here's the Miami Herald story; but the New York Times actually goes deeper, reporting on concerns that Bush and the Florida legislature have interfered with the separation of powers by superseding a court order.

So what? This is a nasty, nasty case. Schiavo, though profoundly brain-damaged, is not in a coma and not on life support. Her husband claims she would want to die under her current circumstances, but he has no proof. Moreover, her parents desperately want her to live.

I'm not sure this breaks down cleanly on liberal-conservative lines, but for the most part it appears that the conservatives are with Bush and the liberals are not. Well, here's one liberal who's with Bush.

2. A messy abortion-rights debate. Congress yesterday finished work on legislation to ban a late-term abortion procedure that opponents call "partial birth" abortion. Click here for the New York Times story.

There's no question that intact dilation and extraction, as the procedure is more accurately known, is gruesome. The real question is one to which I have no answer: is it true, as opponents claim, that it is never medically necessary for a physician to resort to this procedure, even to protect the life or health of the patient? If they're right, I'm for a ban; if they're wrong, then I'm not. Analyses I've seen over the years tend to depend on the political orientation of those who are offering them.

But it strikes me as absurd and offensive for liberals to stake their reputations on a full-throated defense of this particular type of abortion. Senator Tom Harkin went way overboard yesterday, saying, "Congress has turned its back on America's women, their right to privacy, the right to choose. America's women are now second-class citizens."

Those who voted against the ban, like Harkin and Senator Barbara Boxer, probably did the right thing. But there are enough moral qualms around this issue that they ought to be lowering the rhetoric.

3. "Givers and takers." Governor Mitt Romney yesterday distanced himself from remarks by his chief budget aide, Eric Kriss, that the state's money woes are being exacerbated by the presence of too many "takers" and not enough "givers."

I didn't hear Kriss give his speech, so the nuances and full context are not available to me. But according to an account in this morning's Boston Globe, it seems that Kriss's remarks were entirely analytical and, if he's right, go to the heart of a real problem.

Here are three key paragraphs from the Globe story about Kriss's remarks, which he made at a meeting of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce:

"Of course, all of us receive some benefits -- like the roads and rails that brought us all here this morning. But we all know that some -- most in this room probably -- are net contributors, while others are net beneficiaries. The ratio between givers and takers turns out to be a critical variable of government," said Kriss, who was not available yesterday to elaborate on his remarks.

"What ratio is sustainable?" Kriss asked. He noted that when President Lyndon Johnson launched his Great Society programs in the 1960s, the "sustainable" ratio of givers to takers was thought to be 9 to 1 -- that is, 90 percent of the population should pay taxes to help the bottom 10 percent rise up by receiving government services.

"Forty years later, our ratio at the state level is more like 3 to 1 -- 75 percent net contributors and 25 percent net recipients -- and edging towards 2 to 1," Kriss said, adding later: "And the trends are unsettling."

Why would Democratic legislators and social-services advocates be "enraged" by these observations, as the Globe reports? Why would Romney think he needed to disavow them in any way? Kriss identified a real problem -- the carnage that results when there are not enough people paying taxes and too many people receiving benefits that are paid for through taxes.

The only way such a problem can be solved is through growth -- a healthier economy and more jobs. That's what liberals ought to be saying.

John Dennis's non-apology apology. Why did WEEI Radio (AM 850) talk-show host John Dennis even apologize? He now claims he never said what he said.

He and co-host Gerry Callahan were back on the air yesterday, and the Globe quotes Dennis as saying in part: "There is my least favorite item of all -- that is, the constant and inaccurate repeating of the phrase that John Dennis compared black schoolchildren to a gorilla. I did no such thing. That reference makes me sick to my stomach."

He did "no such thing"? Roll the tape, one more time. Remember, Dennis was talking about Little Joe, the gorilla who had escaped from the Franklin Park Zoo.

Callahan: "They caught him at a bus stop, right -- he was like waiting to catch a bus out of town."

Dennis: "Yeah, yeah -- he's a Metco gorilla."

Callahan: "Heading out to Lexington."

Dennis: "Exactly."

If Dennis doesn't understand that he was comparing black schoolchildren to gorillas, well, everyone else does.

Meanwhile, Herald columnist Howard Bryant today has a fine, tough piece (subscription required) on the hypocrisy of Callahan, who wrote a Herald column a few days ago calling for Grady Little to be fired, but who, personally, served just a two-week suspension for pouring gasoline on Dennis's racist explosion. Maybe two weeks is sufficient -- but only if they change their race-baiting, gay-hating, women-mocking ways. Dennis's remarks, sadly, suggest that they still don't have a clue

Bryant's closing remarks: "As a former Metco gorilla myself, I thank you, guys. To paraphrase your old friend Louise Day Hicks, we know where you stand." (Bryant apparently wrote these words before news of Hicks's death became public.)

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