The misfortunes in the recent Terri Schiavo situation are a case in point.
Having been faced with a similar issue over a loved one -- whether or not to disconnect a feeding tube -- I could relate to the anguish and trauma involved on both sides.
In our case, however, I remember being carefully informed by attending personnel that (1) death by starvation is gentle and painless and (2) that attendants would be on hand to administer painkillers if the patient were to experience some unexpected discomfort.
We, in the end, did not elect to remove the feeding tube, and our decision remained very private and very personal.
That's why I was dismayed at the explosion of emotions and trauma over the Terri Schiavo case. People on both sides of the issue seemed to have overreacted wildly, creating a rift and a national debate that may be with us for years.
I enjoy listening to the likes of Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh whenever I get the chance. But I worry that the conservative cause they espouse was harmed due in part to what seemed emotional overreaction.
They and many others (including national and Florida state leaders) appeared to lose objectivity in their radio broadcasts in favor of a hysteria that flailed at state and federal judges and everyone else in their way.
Their unpersuasive arguments and questionable charges about the horrors of feeding tube removal left me far less sympathetic than I might have been. Just as when people defend religion with bad arguments, the over-the-top rhetoric presented by both sides in the Terri Schiavo case caused me to lose faith in their causes.
In the process they set up an unfortunate confrontation among the branches of government, all of whom merit some blame. The executive branch really had no business meddling in this issue, and it is a mystery to me why Congress would feel it necessary to intervene.
Worst of all, the call for more control over activist judges because of the "arrogance" displayed can create a backlash. I, too, get upset over judicial activism and judges who overstep their bounds to create edicts favoring liberal causes.
But in the Schiavo matter, it was not a case of merely a rogue judge since all courts -- including the Supreme Court -- ruled in a similar manner.
Conservative overreaction only gave license to liberals to make fun of them, and it used up political capital that will be needed to combat the very real abuse of judicial power. Worse yet, the spin liberals placed on the conservative reaction is that it was simply a matter of pandering for votes. I winced because this meant the issue had been trivialized. In reality this is a heart-rending issue that plumbs the depths of the conservative soul.
Recent editorial cartoons have also appeared linking conservative missteps in the Schiavo matter with similarly flawed policy regarding Social Security reform. And this has allowed liberals to trivialize an unrelated issue, which truly does merit consideration.
The Schiavo matter really should have turned on Terri's condition. If we're talking six months in a vegetative state, that's one thing. But after more than a decade-and-a-half in an unresponsive condition, reason screams that it's time to let go.
I personally believe that our freedoms are being attacked by extremes on all sides. Hard-line liberals are often busily stopping progress, tearing down traditions and opening up Pandora's box on a host of social issues.
But sometimes conservatives help things along by taking positions that seem vindictive, out-of date or just plain odd. This sometimes causes them to look foolish, making it hard for moderates or even other conservatives to support them.
There is a fine line between standing firmly upon principle or simply looking foolish for no appreciable reason.
To retain the moral high ground, conservatives need to make sure their efforts are seen as based in fundamental fairness and framed with impeccable reason.
And that's something all Americans can rally around.