The Politics Of The Terri Schiavo Case

Across the blogosphere, many people have expressed dismay that Capitol Hill has chosen to get involved in the Terri Schiavo case for political reasons. Well, of course they did — they’re politicians! Everything from where they go on vacation to what dinner parties they go to is influenced by political considerations. So, it’s no surprise that Republicans in Washington have taken note of the fact that part of their base has developed a passionate interest in the fate of Terri Schiavo.

But if whether Terri Schiavo lives or dies has become a political hot potato, then some folks might wonder why the George Bush, Tom Delay, Bill Frist, & company are getting involved. After all, according to an ABC Poll, most Americans believe Schiavo’s feeding tube should be pulled and that Congress should stay out of it:

An ABC News poll reached the surprising conclusion that a majority of Americans think Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube should remain out so she can be starved to death, but the question posed by the news network portrayed her as having “no consciousness” and being on “life support,” rather than an awake, responsive patient with a feeding tube.

“Schiavo suffered brain damage and has been on life support for 15 years,” the poll informed respondents. “Doctors say she has no consciousness and her condition is irreversible. Her husband and her parents disagree about whether she would have wanted to be kept alive. Florida courts have sided with the husband and her feeding tube was removed on Friday. What’s your opinion on this case – do you support or oppose the decision to remove Schiavo’s feeding tube?”

In response, reported ABC, “the public, by 63 percent-28 percent, supports the removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube, and by a 25-point margin opposes a law mandating federal review of her case. Congress passed such legislation and President Bush signed it early today.”

So why are the big wheels in Washington pulling out all the stops to try to save Terri Schiavo? Because the polling data alone doesn’t tell the whole story.

Despite the fact that this might look like a tempest in a teapot to many political observers, a significant part of the GOP base, particularly the social conservatives, are tuned in, jacked up, and ON FIRE over this situation. Unlike many issues that are forgotten in a few weeks, this one is going to linger on with a lot of GOP voters.

Will general elections swing on it? Going by the early polling data, that seems doubtful, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t make the difference in GOP primaries — maybe in THE GOP PRIMARY everyone is talking about already — the one in 2008. Standing on the wrong side of an issue that your base has a big emotional investment in can be a risky proposition and shouldn’t be done lightly.

But wait a second, what about the voters who don’t think the Federal government should be involved? Going by the polling data, don’t they outnumber the people demanding that Congress do something? Sure, but they’re not passionate about it and that makes all the difference. The “let her die” crowd seems to be made up of casual & / or conflicted observers, liberal diehards who oppose everything Republicans do by reflex, and a few conservatives and libertarians making dry arguments relating to states rights & judicial activism that seem to be largely without merit. Unlike the “Save Terri Schiavo” group, the votes of these people are unlikely to be effected one way or the other by what happens in this case. Besides, it doesn’t take a genius to tell you that you’re seldom going to lose anything politically by sticking up for an innocent & defenseless woman who’s about to be starved to death.

When it’s all said and done, is Terri Schiavo going to be allowed to live? That’s unknown. But a combination of political necessity & compassion for a woman who may be abandoned to die by the courts while she still has a chance to partially recover, guarantee that the GOP is going to do everything in their power to try to save Terri’s life.

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