Extremists on Life Issue Alienating Public

The Washington Post reports that Republican leaders who intervened in the Terri Schiavo case may well face a backlash from a public that’s much less polarized on the issue. So long as extremists on the other side continue to alienate the public with even more outrageous actions, though, the Republicans are likely to be safe.

Analysts: GOP May Be Out of Step With Public (p. A6)

Congressional Republicans and President Bush have seized upon the Terri Schiavo case with such fervor that they may find themselves out in front of an American public that is divided over right-to-die issues and deeply leery of government intrusion into family affairs, according to analysts and polls. Dominating a debate that many Democrats seem eager to avoid, conservative lawmakers and the White House have taken extraordinary steps to allow a federal judge to override the decisions of Florida courts to remove the brain-damaged woman’s feeding tube. Antiabortion activists, a key GOP constituency, have cheered the moves, which included Bush rushing back to Washington to sign the bill in the dead of night after a rare Palm Sunday congressional session.

In another sign of the priority that the GOP has placed on the Schiavo matter, they have let it trump their traditional calls for a limited federal judiciary and respecting the “sanctity of marriage.” Bush said yesterday that his decision to fly back from his Texas ranch to the White House to sign the legislation gave Schiavo’s parents “another opportunity to save their daughter’s life.” Speaking in Tucson before an event promoting his plan to restructure Social Security, he said: “This is a complex case with serious issues. But in extraordinary circumstances like this, it is wise to err on the side of life.”

Republicans in Congress and administration officials say their actions are principled and courageous. Whatever the motives, dramatic actions on such a high-profile case will have repercussions in next year’s congressional elections, campaign strategists say. Polls and analyses suggest that Republicans could find themselves out of step with many Americans, especially if Democrats find a more unified voice on the subject. An ABC News poll released yesterday concluded that “Americans broadly and strongly disapprove of federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, with sizable majorities saying Congress is overstepping its bounds for political gain.”

More on the ABC poll here.

As unseemly as the actions of the Republican leadership on this issue were, however, they are much less likely to alienate moderate Americans than this sort of thing:

DailyKos cartoon of Bush in Nazi uniform holding baby with caption Because in 18 years we need this rugrat to waste us some A-Rabs
Daily Kos :: Culture of life

Just amazing. Thankfully, even many of Kos’ commentators are disgusted by this one.

Hat tips: Memeorandum for WaPo piece, Wizbang and MFYA for the Kos cartoon.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Fersboo says:

    Yeah, the American public is more interested in saving cop-killers in Philadelphia than handicapped housewives in Florida. Just like there was a grassroots effort to pass CFR.

  2. bryan says:

    I think these analysts are engaged in a bit of wishful thinking re: right to life issues.

  3. Lucas Grijander says:

    “it is wise to err on the side of life” says Bush…
    Apparently that was not the case when Texas was holding record execution numbers with him as Governor


  4. McGehee says:

    Yeah, executing murderers is EXACTLY EQUIVALENT to starving an innocent woman to death based on hearsay testimony from her husband who already had taken up with another woman and fathered the other women’s children.

  5. Lucas Grijander says:

    Well, it is equivalent in that there is a chance that she doesn’t really wish to die, and there is a chance that the person convicted for murder is actually innocent. In both cases it is best to err on the side of life — just in case –, but President Bush doesn’t seem to mind erring on the side of no-life in the case of executing people.

  6. bryan says:

    Actually, death row inmates have way more avenues for appeal than Schiavo has had in this instance. Indeed, the state bends over backwards to err on the side of life in death penalty cases.

  7. Lucas Grijander says:

    That’s really nice of the state, but I doubt it will make the families of people wrongly executed feel any better. Innocent people are executed every once in a while (as is shown by new evidence that sometimes appears years after the execution has taken place). Thus, whenever the state executes anyone there is a small probability that the person is actually innocent, and going back to the “erring” issue, erring on the side of life means not executing that person. I think this woman should be kept alive and I don’t necessarily feel sympathy for her husband, but Mr. Bush doesn’t have the moral authority to talk about sparing innocent people’s lives. That was my point from the beginning, and still is.

  8. warriorjason says:

    Why is it that liberals are so quick to stick up for murders and terrorists with regards to the death penalty. They call it cruel and unusual punishment. Oh they also are quick to kill an unborn child by calling it “a choice”. Then when a womans parents want to stop the husband of a disabled house wife from starving their child the liberals get all up set. No wonder they keep losing elections.

  9. Lucas Grijander says:

    I agree with your description of liberals, that’s why I am a conservative, but one who doesn’t feel forced to agree with our President on issues in which he is wrong.

  10. Just Me says:

    I don’t think this is going to hurt either side.

    The next big election cycle is too far away, Terri will be long dead and buried by then.

    I think the DNC would have a hard time making a case against a GOPer who supported this one, it is just a none winner. And I think the GOP can come up with better ways to attack the left than this one as well.

    This will mostly be forgotten by the time November 2006 rolls around.

  11. Jack Tanner says:

    ‘That’s really nice of the state, but I doubt it will make the families of people wrongly executed feel any better. ‘

    There has never been a documented case in modern US history since the death penalty was reinstated where an executed killer was subsequently exonerated. Maybe you’d like to identify these famililies you’re lying about?

  12. Jammer says:

    I agree with Just Me above. For most people, this issue is simply not going to matter a year from now. Only the hard-core will care. That might matter for turnout purposes, though.

  13. James Taylor says:

    “There has never been a documented case in modern US history since the death penalty was reinstated where an executed killer was subsequently exonerated. Maybe you’d like to identify these famililies you’re lying about?”

    Sacco and Vanzetti

    — Jimmy

  14. ma_che62 says:

    It’s hardly justified to call Sacco and Vanzetti innocent.

    Sacco and Vanzetti From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

    Sacco (Right) and Vanzetti (Left)Nicola Sacco (1891 – August 23, 1927) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1888 – August 23, 1927) were two Italian anarchists, who were arrested, tried, and executed in Massachusetts in the 1920s on charges of murder of a shoe factory paymaster named Frederick Parmenter and a security guard named Alesandro Berardelli and of robbery of $15,766.51 from the factory’s payroll, although there was much doubt regarding their guilt at the time of their trial. The murders and robbery occurred in April of 1920, with three robbers. Only Sacco and Vanzetti were accused of the crime. Judge Webster Thayer, who heard the case, allegedly described the two as “anarchist bastards”. They were electrocuted in Massachusetts in 1927. Sacco was a shoe-maker, Vanzetti a fish seller. In October 1961, ballistic tests showed that the bullet found in Parmenter was fired from Vanzetti’s gun, leading many authorities to conclude that while Sacco probably was innocent, Vanzetti probably was guilty.

    It was a period of intense fear of communism in American history, the Red Scare of 1919 to 1920. Neither Sacco nor Vanzetti had any previous criminal record, nor were they communists, but they were known to the authorities as radical militants who had been widely involved in the anarchist movement, labor strikes, political agitation, and anti-war propaganda. Sacco and Vanzetti believed themselves to be victims of social and political prejudice, and as Vanzetti said in his last speech to Judge Webster Thayer: I would not wish to a dog or a snake, to the most low and misfortunate creature of the earth – I would not wish to any of them what I have had to suffer for things that I am not guilty of. But my conviction is that I have suffered for things that I am guilty of. I am suffering because I am a radical, and indeed I am a radical; I have suffered because I was an Italian, and indeed I am an Italian… (Vanzetti spoke on 19 April 1927, in Dedham, Massachusetts, where their case was heard.[1])

    Many famous intellectuals, including Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Bertrand Russell, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells, campaigned for a retrial but were unsuccessful. On August 23, 1927, after a seven year trial, the two men were sent to the electric chair. The execution sparked riots in London, Paris and Germany. The first inside confirmation of Sacco’s guilt was provided in 1941 when anarchist leader Carlo Tresca told Max Eastman, “Sacco was guilty but Vanzetti was innocent.” Eastman’s published an article recounting his conversation with Tresca in National Review in 1961. Later, others would confirm being told the same information by Tresca.

    In addition, in October 1961, ballistics tests were run using Sacco’s Colt automatic. The results left little room for doubt that the bullet that killed Berardelli in 1920 came from Sacco’s gun.

    Despite this evidence of Sacco’s guilt, on August 23, 1977, exactly fifty years after their execution, Governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation absolving the two men of the crime, saying that “any disgrace should be forever removed from their names”.

    Further evidence on the Sacco and Vanzetti case came in November, 1982 in a letter from Ideale Gambera to Francis Russell. In it, Gambera revealed that his father, Giovanni Gambera, who had died in June 1982, was a member of the four-person team of anarchist leaders that met shortly after the arrest of Sacco and Vanzetti to plan for their defense. In his letter to Russell, Gambera said “Everyone [in the anarchist inner circle] knew that Sacco was guilty and that Vanzetti was innocent as far as the actual participation in killing.”

    Their trial is a major part of the novel Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut. Upton Sinclair’s 1928 book, Boston (ISBN 0837604206), is a fictional interpretation of the affair. Herbert B. Ehrmann, junior counsel for the defense, wrote a book in 1969, The Case That Will Not Die: Commonwealth vs. Sacco and Venzetti (ISBN 0316231002), describing his experiences working on the case.

    A film about the case, “Sacco e Vanzetti”, was made in 1971 by Italian director Giuliano Montaldo.

    Sacco and Vanzetti: the murder and the myth. Robert H. Montgomery