NAT HENTOFF: Oh, I’m not retired at 90 — retire to what?
Now 90, I have a number of expected age-related problems. But as long as you can still read my reporting on our presidents tossing aside the separation of powers and other constitutional limitations on the executive branch, why should I retire?
As the late Cardinal John O’Connor once said to me, “Nat, I hope we don’t lose you. You’re the only Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian, pro-lifer, tireless free speech advocate we have.”
So said this Catholic leader of the New York archdiocese.
And from Duke Ellington I learned to never retire from jazz and life. This was when I was in my teens, working at a Boston radio station where I’d also had a weekly jazz program.
Later I was struck at how tired Duke had become while he and his orchestra were playing more than 200 one-nighters a year all over this land.
Presumptuously, I told him: “Duke, you don’t have to endure this. You’ve written classics and can retire on your ASCAP income.”
Duke looked at me as if I’d lost all my marbles and roared: “Retire? To what?”
That burned a hole in my consciousness. After all, one of Duke’s songs was called “What Am I Here For?”
If I weren’t researching vital stories and sending them across this country and beyond, of what use would I be?
Recently, I received a direct answer to Duke’s query in a call from Ron Strom, the commentary editor of World Net Daily, the independent news site. He told me that editors there were worried about my absences, which until the past few months had been very rare. They wanted to know what current, controversial topics I’d eventually be writing about. Readers had also been concerned, presumably about my health.
Added Strom: “You have my best wishes for continued improvement in your health. We look forward to your return to weekly writing. May you continue for many years to come.”
I certainly intend to. The more I research and write, the more my physical situation improves because I get so involved in reporting that I forget my health problems.
One story I’d been eager to write about was my enthusiasm for Jeb Bush’s presidential candidacy in 2016 — and then what abruptly ended it.
To his great credit, Bush, while governor of Florida, tried hard to prevent the death of Terri Schiavo in 2005.
I had researched and written about that case in my then-regular Village Voice column. As I concluded, hers was “the longest public execution in American history” (“Terri Schiavo: Judicial Murder,” The Village Voice, March 22, 2005).
I added: “She is not brain-dead or comatose, and breathes naturally on her own. Although brain-damaged, she is not in a persistent vegetative state, according to an increasing number of radiologists and neurologists.”
Her husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, had been intervening for years in order to remove her feeding tube. Her parents and siblings, however, tried to keep her alive.
Federal courts refused to get involved and the Supreme Court denied emergency calls for help.
The Florida legislature even passed a law in 2003 protecting Terri Schiavo’s right to life. Bush signed it, but the state Supreme Court threw it out two years later, thus ensuring that Michael Schiavo would be allowed to have his wife’s feeding tube permanently removed.
It’s worth noting, as was reported extensively at the time, that her husband was living with another woman with whom he’d had children.
It’s also worth reminding readers, as I did 10 years ago, that “the American Civil Liberties Union, which would be passionately criticizing state court decisions and demanding due process if Terri were a convict on death row, has shamefully served as co-counsel for her husband, Michael Schiavo, in his insistent desire to have her die.”
Can you imagine that?
On March 31, 2005, CNN’s headline proclaimed: “Terri Schiavo has died.”
It further noted: “Terri Schiavo, the 41-year-old brain-damaged woman who became the centerpiece of a national right-to-die battle, died Thursday morning, nearly two weeks after doctors removed the feeding tube that had sustained her for more than a decade.”
In response, Bush has said he has no regrets in waging his sustained battle to keep her alive.
Yet, as admirable as his position has been, I am not urging him to become our next president.
Dig what he told a gathering in Concord, New Hampshire, earlier this year about the Patriot Act: “There’s not a shred of evidence that anybody’s civil liberties have been violated by it. Not a shred” (“Jeb Bush: ‘Not a Shred of Evidence’ That Patriot Act Violated Anyone’s Civil Liberties,” Igor Bobic, huffingtonpost.com, May 21).
What a national disgrace.
The Patriot Act was rushed through Congress so quickly following the Sept. 11 attacks that many legislators didn’t even have time to read it. The most anti-constitutional legislation in our history passed easily. In it, Section 215 destroyed the Fourth Amendment’s protections against government invasions of our personal privacy.
Recent legislation happily signed by Barack Obama supposedly changes that section — but not essentially! Government intelligence agencies are still spying on us.
Indeed, as The Washington Post reported last week: “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on Monday ruled that the NSA could resume gathering millions of Americans’ phone metadata — call times, dates and durations — to scan for links to foreign terrorists” (“With court approval, NSA resumes bulk collection of phone data,” Ellen Nakashima, The Washington Post, June 30).
So are there any Constitutionalists you can trust to become president in 2016? What about members of Congress? Do you trust any of the current presidential candidates to fill Supreme Court vacancies?
Will this still be America after next year’s elections? Do you still give a damn?
I still do, and that’s why I’m not retiring.
That’s what I’m here for.
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.