In today’s New York Times, Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, sheds some welcome light on the Terri Schiavo case and the GOP’s penchant for interfering in the most sensitive and difficult decisions facing American families. Kohut’s article, “A Political Victory That Wasn’t,” makes a persuasive case that the Republicans’ meddling in the Schiavo family’s affairs demonstrates a blatant disregard for the beliefs of the American people and also shows that the Christian conservative movement may be becomming the most potent driving force of GOP political strategy. Kohut cites an ABC News Poll showing how the American people feel about the GOP-lead congressional vote allowing Terri Schiavo’s parents to take the case to federal court:
…the public, by a margin of 70 percent to 27 percent, opposes Congressional involvement in the case. Fully 67 percent of the poll’s participants thought members of Congress were more focused on using the Schiavo case for political advantage than on the principles involved.
What makes the poll’s findings even more striking, as Kohut notes, is that more than half of the poll’s respondents had been involved in making a decision concerning the termination of life support for a friend or family member. While conceding that some of the members of congress who supported the measure were acting out of conscience, he warns that the vote may signal a dangerous new trend in American politics:
…the Christian conservative movement now has the clout on life-and-death issues to do what the National Rifle Association has done for years on gun control. Strengthened by the results of the November elections, the movement can convey to legislators that the intensity of their constituents’ beliefs is more important than the balance of national public opinion.
Kohut sees the vote in congress as a test run for Christian conservatives, to see “whether they have enough standing to run against public opinion.” But Democrats can take some comfort and hope in the enduring pragmatism of American voters who may be “wary of political constraints on the tough choices their families may face…Like Social Security, end-of-life issues hit close to home, where ideology and partisanship play much less of a role than all-too-human self-interest.”