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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Pinellas Park 

The Big Diamond is back from a few days off. We were visiting the small diamonds in Florida, where hope springs eternal. It’s a new tradition: the second annual Red Sox Spring Training visit.

The Spring Training trip was a good time to take the pulse of a distinctly different American subculture than the one in our New York Petri Dish. While following the boys of summer down south in the spring, we stopped for breakfast in Pinellas Park, the epicenter of death and dying in public policy at this moment. It was my buddy Joe who looked around and said, “You really just have to air about a half-hour of video taken here for the whole Schiavo story make so much more sense.”

It’s different country. Pinellas Park, at least the parts of it we saw, is dotted with Baptist Churches, family restaurants, gun stores, and all manner of billboards making urgent points about living ‘right.’ There seem to be no lack of problems here, but one solution to them all is advertised heavily. Turning to God is the answer.

But despite the very socially conservative appearance of Pinellas Park, it seemed from the local media that there’s at least some diversity of opinion about the Schiavo case there. There's some debate in Tampa news about whether the invasion of their city by the forces of the hard core Social Right is good for the suburb. In our short stay, we didn’t hear anyone discuss the case over breakfast. People seemed content to go about their business and to eat the enormous meals served up in one of the family restaurants we stopped at. The Schiavo case is a frequent news item in the Tampa area, going back for years, so maybe it’s just overload, but it was a bit surprising to hear nothing on the street while it was all over the papers and television.

It was also instructive that there was no massive response from the call to fundamentalists in evidence as we drove around Pinellas Park, no thousands of protesters jamming the city streets. If our anecdotal view holds water, the Schiavo family’s tragedy is seen by most people as just that, not as the occasion for a revolt against the judiciary.

Perhaps in Pinellas Park, some people of even the most conservative backgrounds have the uneasy feeling that the country has been brought unwillingly into a battle that has more gray area than the culture war zealots want to admit. It could be that most folks want our public life to be about things the government and legislators can do to improve and save the lives of many, not merely to involve itself opportunistically in the struggle of one family at life’s sad ending.

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