Are all these newsies breathlessly reporting the "discovery" of a memo describing how Capitol Hill Republicans planned to use the Terri Schiavo case for political gain actually surprised? Are these people really this naive? Where's that hard-boiled cynicism these reporters are supposed to have developed by now? Wasn't advancing the Republican agenda the point of the whole endless thing, from which we were only saved by the death of the pope, which is also dragging on interminably? (Do I really need to see his 84-year-old corpse 65 times a day? People who really want to see that are camping out at the Vatican -- so we can assume the rest of us are okay with missing it. In fact, maybe some news organization should set up a temporary digital news channel to cover the pope and his funeral and so on so the 10 billion of us in the world who are not Catholic and don't care one freakin' whit can get on with our lives.) Anyway, didn't right-wingers keep Terri Schiavo on the front-burner so they could keep framing the debate on right-to-life issues in their favor? That's what I thought anyway.
So my reaction to this news that a staffer for Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) authored a memo that called the Schiavo case a "great political issue ... and a tough issue for Democrats" is ... who the hell cares? The poor guy, senior legal staffer Brian Darling, has since resigned, a pariah to the Republican cause. Um, hello, there's no way Sen. Martinez and his Republican counterparts weren't having this conversation. Maybe they didn't want it published by ABC News, The Washington Post and the Associated Press (by means of a memo assuredly delivered unto those prestigious news organizations by a lucky Democratic staffer who found a draft in a trash can somewhere and ran as quickly as possible to the phone) but they were certainly discussing all along how to turn Terri Schiavo into a political cause celebre.
That's what this story was all about. Schiavo long ago stopped being a brain-dead individual fighting for her right to lay in a hospital bed forever more and became a political issue, a way for Republicans to draw very bright lines on where they stand on these so-called right-to-life issues. That way of thinking - done best by Karl Rove - won George W. Bush the election. Republicans managed to turn San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's attempt to do something nice for his many gay constituents by letting them get married into a major, divisive, election-day issue. At that moment, the election -- very helpfully for the Rs -- stopped being about the war and the morass it has become and started being about moral values. And when that happened, a little more than half the country (and more than enough) had no choice but to vote their conscience. Their God and their religion demanded nothing less. I can't blame those people for standing up for what they believe - I'm just saying that the Republicans are experts at taking over the debate and using it in their favor. Meanwhile, the Democrats barely play defense to Republicans' Super-Bowl worthy media offense, and their offense never leaves the locker room. That's possibly out of sheer terror, but it's all to the Democrats' great disservice and disempowerment. Air America isn't the answer, by the way, and Jon Stewart can't and doesn't want to solve the Democrats' media disconnect by himself.
Besides using Terri Schiavo as a Republican branding campaign, the Schiavo case also represents another chapter in the Republican Party's long-standing effort to brand liberals as anti-life, or more recently and more brutally, pro-death. That's pretty ironic if you think about it. Somehow the Republicans have managed to make liberals -- people who are typically anti-death-penalty, anti-war and pro-gun- control -- pro-death. But having said all that, liberals want choice for women, and that means death for unborn embryos, so that's pro-death. No big deal that most of those "saved" children will go into the welfare system that Republicans don't support, and later into a public education system that Republicans also don't support. No worries! Without much of an education, these kids will end up signing up for the Army where they can later die in Republican-led wars. Problem solved. In fact, maybe that's the secret reason why right-wingers are anti-choice - maybe they fear that with choice we won't have enough displaced people willing to go abroad and die in Republican-endorsed wars. But anyway, sure, it's those crazy liberals that are pro-death. Actually, I think they are just pro-death with regard to certain Republicans and radio talk show hosts.
When a story like Terri Schiavo or Elian Gonzales or even gay marriage shows up in the news and won't go away, assume anyone that can -- Rs and Ds -- is using it for political gain. That's how the system works. What's more important is who plays that game most successfully -- because that's who holds the power.
And for another, but similar, opinion on this subject, check out Eric Boehlert's piece at Salon.com .