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.
In 2008, Obama appealed to many socially liberal, fiscally conservative moderates frightened from Republicans by the collapse of Lehman and drawn toward Obama’s post-racial America. Since he can’t run this time around on either his economic record or his social transcendence, he has engaged in the dreaded Karl Rove strategy: fire up the base and pick off enough moderates to get “50+1.”
On Tuesday, House Democrats joined the politicization by holding a “forum on racial profiling, hate crimes and ‘stand your ground’ deadly force laws.” They invited the aggrieved Martin family to testify, hoping to repeat their perceived success with the mock-hearing for Sandra Fluke. Liberal pundits have fallen in line, with columnists such as Eugene Robinson joining the opening salvo against Florida’s gun laws.
But there is risk in all this grandstanding.
The socially liberal, fiscally conservative voters are a “live and let live” crowd. They despise aggression, and they perceived aggression on the part of Republicans in 2005. Taking sides in a confrontation makes them uncomfortable, but they will lash out at the confrontation itself. They pride themselves on “pragmatism.” Major news outlets describing George Zimmerman as a “white Hispanic” and Democrats taking to the House floor in hoodies may be a bridge too far. So far, the polls reflect a desire for justice, not racial justice. In the moderates’ minds, racial justice was served when they elected Obama. This is a distinction the Democrats may have lost sight of in the public uproar.
This frenetic hand grenade by Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson encapsulates all the backlash potential in one verbal explosion. According to Congresswoman Wilson, Trayvon Martin was a “victim of a botched police investigation full of incompetence or intelligent mismanagement. … Trayvon was hunted, chased, tackled and shot. Ill-conceived laws and lax gun laws all contribute to this tragedy. Mr. Zimmerman should be arrested immediately for his own safety.”
The other day, a protester marching in front of the Department of Justice declared, “We want to keep this issue before the public, because if it goes away, we believe what happened to Trayvon Martin could go away, as well.” By the time this is over, Democrats may wish it had.