If You Liked the Handling of the Terri Schiavo Case, You'll Love President Jeb Bush

04/02/2015 11:48 am ET | Updated Jun 02, 2015

As Republican presidential hopefuls begin to pile into yet another clown car, we hear again and again that Jeb Bush is the sane, "establishment" choice for the job.

Anybody who thinks that Bush would provide a less radical alternative to the likes of Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee should just think back to a decade ago, when Bush was at the center of one of the most egregious government intrusions into private lives in recent memory, a macabre cause célèbre that sickened people across the country but delighted the right wing.

Ten years ago this week, Terri Schiavo died. She had been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, many of which had been taken up with a legal battle between her husband, who wanted to remove the feeding tube that was all that was keeping her alive, and her parents, who wanted to keep it in place.

The Schiavo case was a weighty one. But the religious right, with the help of Jeb Bush and his big brother in the White House, turned it into a vicious, public culture-war battle.

Who can forget when Bush, under increasing national pressure from the religious right, personally wrote to a judge in Schiavo's case? When Bush's lawyers and the Florida state legislature rushed through a blatantly unconstitutional law allowing the governor to issue a "one-time stay" of a court order? When Bush convinced Republicans in Congress to intervene, with Bill Frist memorably offering a snap medical "diagnosis" of Schiavo on the Senate floor without ever seeing the patient?

Throughout the ordeal, Bush used every connection available to him to intervene in the Schiavo case. Even after Schiavo's death, he tried to instigate a criminal inquiry into her husband.

As Schiavo's husband chillingly told Politico this year, if Bush and others could do this to him and his wife, "they'll do it to every person in this country."

"That man put me through misery," he told the Wall Street Journal. "He acted on his personal feelings and religious beliefs, so how can he talk about limited government?"

It's no wonder that Bush is now downplaying his role in the Schiavo case. At the time, an overwhelming majority of Americans wanted the government to get out of the family's private struggle. But the case still has a strong resonance with the religious right, and to many of them, Jeb Bush is its hero.

Bush displayed a similar respect for "limited government" when, as governor, he tried to personally intervene to stop a 13-year-old girl and a 22-year-old rape victim from having abortions. These cases, like that of Schiavo, show an astounding willingness to ignore heart-wrenching personal stories in favor of an unyielding ideology, to blow up private stories into national culture war battles, and to sacrifice a stated commitment to "limited government" to an intense state interest in a single person's most intimate decisions.

And let's not forget Bush's comments during his first gubernatorial run comparing what he called "sodomy" to pedophilia and drunk driving -- over the top, even for the right wing. Just this week, he immediately came to the defense of Indiana's legalization of discrimination only to walk back his comments in front of big donors. So much for his declaration that he is his "own man."

Bush may be the pick of the Republican establishment, who hope that maybe he won't come across as crazy to mainstream voters. But his history in Florida shows that he is just as ready as Huckabee or Cruz to be the culture-warrior-in-chief, and he has a record to prove it.