In Love with Illogic

Peggy Noonan has written a truly bizarre column, which is published in today’s Opinion Journal. She argues that she can understand why devoutly religious people are so passionate in wanting to save Terri Schiavo’s life but that she can “not understand the emotionalism of the pull-the-tube people.”

[W]hy do those who argue for Mrs. Schiavo’s death employ language and imagery that is so violent and aggressive? The chairman of the Democratic National Committee calls Republicans “brain dead.” Michael Schiavo, the husband, calls House Majority Leader Tom DeLay “a slithering snake.” Everyone who has written in defense of Mrs. Schiavo’s right to live has received e-mail blasts full of attacks that appear to have been dictated by the unstable and typed by the unhinged. On Democratic Underground they crowed about having “kicked the sh– out of the fascists.” On Tuesday James Carville’s face was swept with a sneer so convulsive you could see his gums as he damned the Republicans trying to help Mrs. Schiavo. It would have seemed demonic if he weren’t a buffoon.

Why are they so committed to this woman’s death?

They seem to have fallen half in love with death.

So, those of us who believe Michael Schiavo ought to be able to carry out what he has demonstrated for over a decade to various courts are his wife’s wishes, are death-obsessed people who say mean and nasty things. Conversely, it is not at all vitriolic to say that we are “in love with death.” Priceless.

Atop this straw man, she piles on various irrelevant comparisons to those who fight to ensure due process for those on death row, those who oppose the clubbing of baby seals or prevent the extinction of whales, and the abortion fight. Even as someone who favors capital punishment and tends to weigh human economic needs over the plight of marine mammals, I should think the differences between these issues should be rather obvious:

  • Those on death row are there because of the action of the state. Our system is weighted against state action in these cases. That’s why, for example, we require the state to prove its case “beyond reasonable doubt” in criminal cases but only require a “preponderance of the evidence” in civil matters.
  • There is no evidence that whales and baby seals want to die.
  • There is no evidence unborn infants want to die. Further, most aborted fetuses would otherwise have developed sufficient cognitive function as to be aware of their own existence.

While I risk sounding like a broken record* here, this debate would be much easier if conducted rationally. When even the likes of Peggy Noonan are resorting to name calling and obvious logical fallacies, we’re in trouble.

*We need to come up with a new simile for this concept, pronto.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jay says:

    I hadn’t noticed emotionalism on the side of law and reason. On the other side it’s the entire basis for what they are doing.

    I skipped reading the particular column, and the one in which she helped provoke Congress and the President into embarrassing themselves, because I love Peggy Noonan and would like to maintain some illusion in my mind that she’s sane.

  2. whatever says:

    Yeah, calling us “tyrannical”, “trying to overturn the constitution”, “Jesus freaks” and all that other stuff isn’t “emotionalism on the side of law”.

    Your side doesn’t seem to get the issue that:

    – We’re not satisfied that she doesn’t feel pain, so starving her is barbaric. Overcome this issue and I think you’ll win over about 40% of us

    – That we think the husband isn’t lying through his teeth. Overcome this and you’ll get another 30%. Citing the courts as infallible doesn’t cut it.

    – The last 30% are hard core and you are not going to convince

    As a non-religous person it’s the first two that really bother me. In my mind that you site “law” and the “Constitution” to legally starve someone to death is nothing short of absurd and is the real first step on the path to tyranny.

  3. It is a bad situation. Although I firmly believe that the judgement was wrong, the congressional gyrations are problematic themselves – and ineffective as well.

  4. Jay says:

    Starving her is barbaric. There ought to be a better way. Darn laws.

  5. Teri says:

    “Like a dirty CD” just doesn’t have the same cachet, somehow.

  6. Jeff Harrell says:

    I totally see your point that Peggy may have gone too far, but let me describe how I see it.

    Here we have a woman who never expressed a desire to end her life in any way that we can see or touch. Her husband, whose motives are highly questionable, says that he thinks she wants to die. To jump to the conclusion that we should kill her is, in my opinion and apparently the opinion of a lot of people, going too far.

    There are folks out there who seem to be taking the prospect of killing Terri Schiavo very lightly. “She’s brain-dead. Let her die.” That’s the sentiment that’s being expressed over and over. The fact that she’s not brain-dead and that she’s not dying don’t seem to lave much of an impression.

    Obsessed with death? I don’t know if I’d go that far. But I think that there are some people who appear — appear — to have begun to actually root for her death, as if her death will be some kind of victory.

    This may be an overreaction, but if it is, I think it’s a pretty reasonable one given what we’ve seen over the past week.

  7. Jack Tanner says:

    Both sides are doing plenty of projection on this. It’s a new mathamatical discovery. A topic that’s analagous to everything.

  8. Just Me says:

    Actually I think she makes some very good points about some on this issue, expecially many who are commenting in the media and various blogs.

    I don’t think everyone who is in favor of puloling the tube are like this, but I think it is rediculous to pretend like they aren’t out there, and frankly I find some of it troubling. I have seen several smug comments in regards to Terri’s parents losing all over the place, and honestly smugness just doesn’t belong in this debate. How can anyone feel smug about a woman starving to death, I would hope that everyone no matter what side you are on feels a sadness that there is a woman dying at this moment, and at least some of her family members are experiencing very intense grief.

    Also, the other thing I have found troubling is the dehumanizing aspect of this. I think those who basically argue that they believe the court did not er in its decision and that they believe this is what Terri wanted are one thing, but those who seem to justify their position with comments about her being a vegitable or her brain being mush really bother me, because it is denying Terri her humanity, and that is just scary. No matter what that woman is still a human, and the loss of her life right now is causing horrible grief to her family and loved ones, nobody should feel smug about that, or any sense of celebration.

    So I would say Peggy is right, at least about some of those on the side of pulling the tube out, although her brush shouldn’t be painted so broadly as to cover everyone.

  9. callejo says:

    I dont think most people are denying Terri Shiavo her humanity. I think most people think her humanity was denied a long time ago. She became an object for various politcal and religious causes. She was 27 years old when she collasped because of a suspected eating disorder that caused an metobolic problem. 27 years old. Not 38. Her husband said she would not have wanted to live the way she has lived these last 15 years, no matter WHAT position he took was vilified by the various political and religous factions using the shindlers to further their cause. Lets face it, how many parents would barter with the devil himself if they thought IT might bring their child back. The Shindlers have bartered and lost. This whole ugly incredbly PRIVATE affair was laid open for the whole world to voice their concern.

    I know that I am not overjoyed about the “culture of death” but I am about the “culture of humanity”. Where is the humanity in what T. Shiavo has endured?

  10. leelu says:

    …”Hate to sound like I’m caught in a loop”?

  11. Pug says:

    The emotionalism seems to be overwhelmingly on the insert-the-tube side. The Democrats stepped aside and many, like Tom Harkin and Harold Ford, even supported the bill in Congress.

    Now that there is frustration and failure on the insert-the-tube effort, folks like Peggy Noonan are reflexively starting to attack. Sorry, it’s not going to work.

    A majority of the public finally has an issue they completely understand because many have been through this themselves. They understand it is an agonizing, tragic and private family matter.

    No one is cheering for the death of Terri Schiavo. They see it as a sad situation that is none of Tom DeLay’s damn business. The only difference between this case and millions of others like it over the years is that one side of the family does not agree about what should be done.

  12. Richard Ames says:

    I am one of Noonan’s passionate pull-the-tube people and here is why keeping her alive so unnerves me.

    The argument surrounding Terri Schiavo is, whichever way you what to slice it, religious. Noonan says as much in her piece and its true. The reason for keeping Schiavo alive is not medical; there is no reasonable chance of her recovery. Every doctor who has personally examined her has said so, every court that has looked at the record has agreed. Schiavo’s parents have lost in every objective forum in the nation and they continue to lose in those forums. It is completely credible to me that Schiavo herself, as her husband testified, would actually want the tube removed. It’s anecdotal, I know, but I have not heard or read a single person on television, radio or print, or talked to a single one of my friends or co-workers who has said they would wish to live if they were Schiavo. Nobody. And yet opponents of removing the tube attempt to convince us that Schiavo’s husband is lying, that he just wants rid of her. Maybe he does want “rid” of her, but it is far more than likely that Schiavo would not want to live anyway, and her doctors have stated with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that she will not recover. And so the argument for keeping Schiavo alive is entirely a religious one.

    Religious power plays in the public arena worry me. No, let me restate that. They terrify me. Such exercises of power in government should terrify everyone. Religious assertions in the public arena should unnerve us to the core because of the long sordid history of intolerance, persecution, crusades, lynchings, torture and restrictions on human liberty and freedom such assertions have produced. How is it, I wonder, that our nation in particular seems to have forgotten that these very evils, and freedom from these evils, played the major role in why so many people began settling in this New World 300 years ago?

    The people who want to keep Schiavo alive against her physicians’ prognosis, her husbands’ wishes, and the courts’ permissions, have been using terms like “defending life” or “supporting a culture of life” as their reason. Yet everyone knows that “defending life” is certain religious code for the belief in the “holiness,” if you will, of creation. Read Noonan’s piece, she says exactly this. Creation is divine, the belief goes, and so its destruction should only be at the hands of its creator, not man.

    But this kind of talk gives me the creeps and it should you too. Not because I can prove it wrong, I can’t. But in the United States there are not suppose to be any religious presumptions in the public arena. None. Mr. Schiavo had only a medical burden to overcome in court, not a religious one. Through the expert opinion of the physicians caring for his wife he met that burden. And yet just last week the Congress of the United States of America, in its self-ascribed role as defender of life, passed legislation attempting to enforce its interpretation of a religious principle. That is wrong. That is so far removed from the Republican party I support — the one that believes in the principle of limited government and individual freedom — that it’s a freak to me, a monstrosity. For Noonan to call the sentiment of people like me “bizarre passion” makes me wonder if she and the people who agree with her have lost their minds.

  13. Richard Ames says:

    Turned my comment here into a blog entry at my site then realized I left the wrong address … link’s rigth now 😉