Friday, February 25, 2005

Oregon: Wyden’s there; where’s Gordon?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Republicans used to defend federalism and personal freedomIn its rush to remake the world, the religious right and the neoconservatives who run the White House are determined to obliterate Oregon’s assisted suicide law.

Despite the dire predictions that Oregon would become a mecca for prospective medical suicides, terminally ill people have used the law relatively rarely. In the law’s six years of existence, just 171 have used it to end their lives.

Even though the Oregon law has not lived up to the dark foreboding of the religious right, that powerful faction fears the proliferation of the concept of assisted suicide in other states.

Now we have the U.S. Supreme Court taking up an appeal of the case which former Attorney General John Ashcroft brought in 2001. Ashcroft lost in federal district and circuit courts. We also have, according to The Oregonian Sunday, a budding legislative drive to nullify Oregon’s law. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has presidential ambitions, is the new champion of cutting down Oregon’s law.

There is a huge contradiction at the heart of this. The Republican Party used to be the party of federalism, of states’ rights, and it was the party of personal freedom. The drive to kill Oregon’s law tramples on federalism and it mocks personal freedom.Also at the heart of this drama is an abiding question: Where is U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, who describes himself as the senator for Oregon?

Smith’s invisibility is especially apparent because Sen. Ron Wyden is so highly visible as Oregon’s defender against those who would nullify a law which Oregon voters have twice approved.

Gordon Smith could have stopped the White House initiative to quash Oregon’s law. The Republican establishment views Smith as an important figure in the Western GOP. When Attorney General Ashcroft moved against the Oregon law in 2001, it was clear that Sen. Smith had assented by remaining silent. Ashcroft would not have moved without tacit assent from Smith. Similarly, Majority Leader Frist would not take aim at Oregon’s law if Sen. Smith objected.

Like Sen. Smith, The Oregonian’s editorial page opposed the assisted suicide initiative. The newspaper’s editorial of Wednesday provides Smith with an excellent rationale for defending Oregon’s law.

Oregonians who have twice affirmed the assisted suicide law may rightly feel like someone who is being stalked by a big, threatening bully. History and Oregon voters are knocking on Sen. Smith’s door. We wish he would protect us.


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