Back in February, Michelle Goldberg of The Daily Beast wondered if the debate on the HHS mandate was the GOP’s new “Terri Schiavo moment.” Only a warping of the facts by the left’s Outrage, Inc. could produce that analogy. But now a better question arises: Will President Obama’s response to the Trayvon Martin shooting become his “Terri Schiavo moment”?
Disputed facts. A distinct faction of the party’s base. A heated cultural debate that became both compelling and distasteful. Politically ill-advised heavy-handedness. And did I mention a legal backlash in the state of Florida?
This week is the seventh anniversary of Terri Schiavo’s court-ordered starvation. While the structural elements of her story diverge from Trayvon Martin’s, the political elements follow a similar pattern.
In 2005, Republicans escalated the Terri Schiavo case to the federal level with the “Palm Sunday Compromise.” Seventy percent of Americans considered this “inappropriate,” and 67 percent believed it was done for political gain. With these political winds in their sails, Democrats and their liberal foot soldiers presented the handling of the Terri Schiavo case as evidence of the Republican bogeyman scratching from inside the bedroom closet, ready to smother the country in a philistine theocracy. Matters were not helped when Florida Senator Mel Martinez’s office produced a memo touting the bill as a “great political issue” because it appealed to the party’s pro-life, religious base, which reinforced the notion that Republicans were beholden to the religious right.
Alone, the Terri Schiavo situation did not sink the Republicans, as they were mired in a failed attempt at comprehensive immigration reform, a deteriorating war in Iraq and a number of scandals amplified by runaway spending. Likewise, Trayvon Martin will not sink Obama, who is mired in the increasing unpopularity of Obamacare, Fast and Furious, Solyndra, a poor economy, foreign policy “flexibility” and the Keystone pipeline. But what the Schiavo and Martin cases do is reinforce a perception in voters’ minds, one that sinks deep and affects their decision-making at the ballot box.
According to a CNN poll released on Monday, 73 percent of those questioned believe George Zimmerman, Mr. Martin’s shooter, should be arrested. Construing this as moral authority, Democrats have rushed to motivate an element of their base, African-Americans, and advance one of their causes, gun control. When President Obama said, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,” he both inserted himself into a local police matter (completely contaminating the jury pool, should an arrest be made and George Zimmerman be brought to trial) and identified himself with the Old Guard Trifecta of racial agitators: Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan. When you add this to the president’s response to the Skip Gates arrest, his Justice Department’s racial priorities and his allusions to racist elements in his critics, a pattern develops in moderate voters’ minds.