A culture of life.
That mantra has been endlessly repeated by conservatives.
President Bush spoke about it in March 2001 at an event honoring Pope John Paul II: "In the culture of life we must make room for the stranger. We must comfort the sick. We must care for the aged. We must welcome the immigrant. We must teach our children to be gentle with one another."
Those words sound like a foundation of "compassionate conservatism", but in the last six years, what has Bush done to foster a "culture of life" in America?
The White House web site helpfully — or cynically -- lists Bush's "Record of Achievement" for "Promoting a Culture of Life." The page illustrates the Bush administration's obsession with fetuses and embryos.
The only living people mentioned on that page are pregnant women in the context of giving medical care to their fetuses. The White House boasts: "States now have the option to provide vital health care services to promote healthy pregnancies for women and their unborn children who would otherwise be ineligible for coverage." What is this really saying? That poor women get free health care only if they are pregnant. But if they miscarry, they are no longer cared for.
The Bush administration is also proud of its "achievement" in limiting stem cell research to "existing stem cell lines," conveniently forgetting that Bush defined a culture of life as comforting the sick and caring for the aged. It is small comfort to ALS or Parkinson's patients that the federal government blocks research into their treatment to foster its "culture of life."
What about teaching our children to be gentle with another? How has that fared under Bush's America?
The child or new immigrant learns that the right to carry hand guns, even concealed hand guns in Virginia, trumps the right of children to be free from gun violence. The Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung-Hui purchased his weapons legally and White House spokesperson Dana Perino rushed to say, on the day of the killings, that "the President believes that there is a right for people to bear arms."
Bush also believes in teaching our children that it is right, in fact, proper, to kill people in the name of revenge and that the way to avenge a death is by killing some more.
The hypocrisy of a man who was a great advocate of the death penalty lecturing about the "culture of life" in front of a death-penalty foe, Pope John Paul II, was reinforced months later as Bush pushed for a voluntary war in Iraq, which was also opposed by the pope.
Bush's war in Iraq has vastly cheapened the "culture of life." Our very young soldiers are given guns, sent to Iraq and must make split-second life and death decisions in a country where the "enemy" is ill-defined. Wounded Staff Sergeant James Hudspeth recently described to NPR what happens when a civilian is perceived as a threat.
"You get this vehicle in your sight. You just hold down the trigger until it stops. It's a perceived threat.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ It might not be a threat. But it's a perceived threat. ... You got to weigh which is more valuable — one Iraqi civilian or a seven or eight American soldiersÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ I have seen innocents getting shot. It's usually deals with either being close to a perceived threat like a VBIED or a potential VBIED, or being the driver of a vehicle that doesn't have brakes or something like that, or he can't read the signs or whatever Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ so we open up on them. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Once it's done it's done. It's not my fault he doesn't have brakes. It's not my fault he can't read."
No one is shocked any more as the media reports on deaths. Does it still lead if it bleeds? It's hard for the media to prioritize the bleeding any more. What to lead with? Americans killed in Iraq? The likely even greater number of Iraqis killed that day? Revenge killings from handguns on the streets of Oakland or Washington, D.C.? Domestic violence cases? Death penalties being carried out? Hard to know.
The culture of death will unfortunately be Bush's legacy.
Can Americans work on a real "culture of life" when he is gone and before then as individuals? Let us hope so.
Sarah Stapleton-Gray is a free-lance writer in Albany, California.