Terri Shiavo Another Shot in the Culture War

In his 1992 Republican convention speech, Pat Buchanan asserted that we were in the middle of a “great religious war.” While lampooned and villified at the time, it’s rather clear Buchanan was right.

Howie Kurtz has an excellent roundup of the punditocracy, MSN and blogosphere alike, and its reactions to the Terri Schiavo affair. Whatever one’s thoughts on the case itself, it’s rather clear that this case has sharpened the cultural-religious divide in the country. Not only has it further stratified the mythic Blue State-Red State divide, but it has exposed fissures within the GOP coalition between Christian conservatives and the economic libertarian-fiscal conservative wings.

That said, it appears that the extreme statements that the Schiavo battle has produced represent, well, an extreme. While we can quibble with the wording of the questions, the polling seems to indicate an overwhelming consensus that the courts have done the right thing and that the GOP leadership was wrong to intervene in a matter for state courts.

I’m not sure what the ultimate upshot of all this is, if any. Whether their tactics will push away enough moderate Republican leaners to offset the increased mobilization of their base is unclear at this point. While I found the tactics of DeLay, Frist, and company on this issue outrageous, I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton in 2008–even if she’s running against Frist. And 2008, even November 2006, is a long time from now. People’s passions over the Schiavo case will have dissipated by then.

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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. Kate says:

    your passions may cool but the passions of the prolife movement will not which will be a win for the Repubs. Unfortunately it is death for Ms. Schiavo

  2. davod says:

    I do not for one minute believe the polls. It’s all in the way you present the questions. The quote ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’ should be changed to include polls.

  3. Jay says:

    We’ve been thinking this will make the midterms quite interesting next year.

  4. Just Me says:

    HOnestly, but the time the next election cycle runs around, nobody is going to care about this much anymore.

    Also, I don’t know that this action is going to cause some kind of massive bolt from the GOP on this issue, since the DNC isn’t exactly the perfect alternative on this issue, since in general they want the government to be involved in almost anything other than this case, and they have also been known to celebrate the flaunting of the law (think Gavin Newsome in San Fransisco).

    But I figure in about 3 or 4 months, you won’t hardly see the name Schiavo in the papers, and I think both sides are going to want to avoid this one, come the next election cycle, it isn’t really a winner for either side to use.

  5. Jim Henley says:

    But will the country’s regrettable tendency to use “flaunt” for “flout” so quickly disappear?

  6. Why is it that whenever there is a poll that one doesn’t agree with, we get the ol’ “I don’t believe it because it conflicts with what I want it to say”?

    Polls are flawed and are imperfect ways to measure opinion. However, you get several polls with huge margin and even with flawed questions they are telling you something, whether one likes it or not.

    And: I gurantee that while it seems like this story will linger on–it won’t. It won’t be 100% forgotten, but it will be a footnote by the time we get to the 06 election cycle.

  7. Scott Dillard says:

    Most people won’t abandon the GOP over this. But as a Republican, I am getting really tired of the religious right’s attempt to own the party. I am a Republican because I believe in LIMITED government. I don’t want the government personal life or in my bedroom. It’s getting pretty strange when the Democratic Party is dominated by the extremists of MoveOn, and the GOP is dominated by religous extremists. Most of us are in the middle and NO ONE is speaking for us.

  8. Beth says:

    I’m a die-hard Republican, but I’m certainly not Religious Right, and neither are a lot of others who support the Schindlers. There are even Libertarians and liberals who do–and now even Ralph Nader, of all people, has voiced his support.
    Just sayin’ is all.

    See also: Ace, Emperor Misha, Rusty Shackelford, Scott Ott, etc. etc…not exactly Bible-banging evangelists…

  9. Beth says:

    (And thanks for being the bad guy so I don’t have to, Jim Henley. LOL) ;-D

  10. Jim Henley says:

    Creationist Scott Ott is not a Bible-banging evangelist?

  11. Jim Henley says:

    Let me be clear: I think Ott can be a funny writer and an effective satirist. But his conservative religious views are not obscure.