The Dark Debut of Debbie Wasserman Schultz

It was a turning point in my life.  Some people remember where they were when Kennedy was killed or Apollo 11 landed on the moon.  I remember where I was the day Terri Schiavo died.  I was crying in a bathroom stall at work, wondering what kind of merciless country I lived in.  It was nine years ago this month.

Looking back at the appeals and legislation surrounding the Terri Schiavo case makes my head spin.  At the time, my family and I followed every twist, every turn, and every detail of her family’s struggle to keep her alive.

Frankly I’d rather not look back.  It only reminds of how messed up our laws were, and how much farther we’ve deteriorated into a culture of death instead of a culture of life.

In 2005 Terri Schiavos' mother, father, brother and sister did everything they legally could to save their daughter, their sister.  None of it worked.  Terri Schiavo was subsequently murdered by the laws of the state of Florida and her country.  That is my opinion, and the feeling of many Americans.

I had followed the case the only way I could at the time; on the radio.  Glenn Beck was covering it and Bobby Schindler, Terri’s brother, would give updates when he could.  I and my family suffered every joyous victory and every crushing defeat with the Schindler family.

One person I remember well from that time is Long Island’s own Debbie Wasserman Schulz, who decided to stay in Florida after earning her Political Science degrees there (along with a certificate in political campaigning that would serve her well).  A freshman U.S. Representative serving hanging chad country, Wasserman Shultz was the public face of Florida’s push to let Schiavo die. (The case to remove her feeding tube was initiated by her husband Michael who, eight years after her collapse, petitioned the court to have the tube removed based on a casual conversation he remembered where Terri had said she wouldn’t want to live like that.)

“Who’s talking?” someone would yell from the other room as my family took turns monitoring the TV for news about Terri.  “I don’t know, it’s that little lady with the long kinky hair again,” I would answer.  Eventually I came to despise seeing this woman because she seemed to relish the attention she received at Terri’s expense.  Wasserman Schultz seemed to soak it up, hopping from interview to interview.  When she told everyone she had “just gone through this with her husband’s aunt” -- not her own child or blood relation – I cringed.  Her motives seemed more blatantly political than personal to me.  Nerves were still raw in Florida -- and Broward County in particular. They had egg on their face from the infamous 2000 Presidential election debacle.  Governor Jeb Bush seemed to keep Democrats in a constant state of rage, and Wasserman Schultz played the tragic case as if it were a game of “gotcha” with the Bush family.  She seemed less concerned with Terri Schiavo than making a name for herself.  And for all the airtime time she copped during the legal mess that was the Schiavo case, I can only find one video of Wasserman Schultz speaking about it during that time.  Every appearance she made leading up to the death of Terri Schiavo seems to have been scrubbed from the internet.  (Her website holds only handpicked excerpts and statements about the case.)

There is however, a C-SPAN video from May 2005, where Wasserman Schultz participates in a “Freedom of the Press” forum hosted by U.S. Rep. John Conyers.  Discussing bias in the media with attendees Randi Rhodes and Al Franken of Air America, Wasserman-Schultz interjected:

One thing I would like to add…my experience with bias in the media, and the disturbing trend that I think is there, was with the Terri Schiavo case.  And you have the point-counterpoint nature and development of news programs.  And it’s really…it was unbelievable to me that, consistently in my involvement in that case, particularly on news programs, I would be pitted against someone who had no regard for the facts of the case or the discussion we were debating.  And the person moderating, who was from one of the news outlets, didn’t make any attempt or effort to try to insert some objectivity or correct the record or oftentimes allow me to correct the record.  It seems as though news programs now have almost no regard for making sure the information that’s being disseminated by guests on their program are factually accurate.  Years ago when I was growing up it appeared as though the information being disseminated on news programs like those were at least trying to stick close to the facts and not allowing people…to just make it up as they went along.  That was just a frustration of mine.

Who knew the frustration Wasserman Schultz was suffering while the Schindlers were fighting to save their daughter’s life?  Apparently we will never get to see any of those terribly annoying “point-counterpoint” interviews she gave on the Schiavo case, nor any of her press conferences from Florida during the legal battle. states their goal is: “Promoting a Culture of Life by embracing the true meaning of compassion by opposing the practice of imposed death.”  Organizations that bring awareness of these issues are needed in America now more than ever.  There was not just one Terri, there is not just one Jahi; there have been others and there will be more.  And if you thought Roe v. Wade was bad for the unborn, wait until you see how much harder the fight for life becomes for the disabled, the terminally ill and the elderly under Obamacare.

Wasserman Schultz repeatedly criticized Terri’s Bill as “overstepping Congressional authority.”  She ranted about “separation of powers” and “states’ rights.”  “When I ran for Congress, I didn’t ask my constituents for the right to make these decisions,” she said.  “We’re not God.”  I can only imagine how spitting mad she would have been if George W. Bush had forced the Affordable Care Act on her constituents.

Steven G. Calabresi, Professor of Law at Northwestern University, wrote an excellent summation on the legality of the laws passed by the Florida State legislature and the U.S. Congress during the Schiavo case.  In his conclusion he wrote:

…contrary to what the media has largely reported about Terri’s Law, moral and equitable arguments weighed in favor of Congress’s decision to intervene to try to save Terri Schiavo’s life. The law that Congress enacted did not violate the Constitution by reopening a final judgment, by attempting impermissibly to direct a judicial decision, or by exceeding Congress’s enumerated power. Terri’s Law was also fully justified as a matter of policy because it reaffirmed Congress’s commitment to a culture of life…

Perhaps Wasserman Schultz should remember the words of Hubert Humphrey who said:

The moral test of a government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick the needy, and the handicapped.

Wasserman Schultz has spouted no end of crazy rhetoric over the years; most recently comparing Rep. Darrell Issa’s cutting the microphone of Rep. Elijah Cummings to the oppressive government actions in Venezuela and Ukraine.  As I look back to Terri Schiavo however, I will never forget the disturbing circumstances that led to Wasserman Schultz’s debut in the national spotlight, nor how she came to be the darling of the Democratic Party.

(Last year, the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network had their first annual Award Gala. Former Governor Sarah Palin was the honored speaker. During the gala, the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Award is presented to an individual or family that defended the life of a loved one against overwhelming odds. This year, the event will be held on March 27th and the guest speaker is Glenn Beck. The award will go to the family of Jahi McMath, “who fought so valiantly for the life of their daughter.”)

Susan D. Harris can be reached at

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