All wet on Schiavo story

Debra J. Saunders

4/8/2005 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders

Conventional wisdom is clear: Washington's intervention in the Terri Schiavo case hurt the GOP big-time. A Time Magazine poll found that three-quarters of the public thought Congress was wrong to intervene after a hospice, under court order, pulled the disabled woman's feeding tube, while 70 percent disapproved of President Bush's role in the saga.

 Funny. A new Zogby International poll shows that, when asked questions that go to the heart of the Schiavo matter, the public is very much in sync with the failed attempt by Congress and Bush to save the woman's life.

 Zogby, in a poll commissioned by the Christian Defense Coalition, found that by a two-to-one margin -- 44 percent versus 24 percent -- likely voters believe the law should assume a patient wants to live and be kept alive with the help of a feeding tube, if a patient -- like Schiavo -- left no written statement on end-of-life care. Should hearsay be admissible (as happened with Schiavo), when courts decide if a feeding tube should be removed? Some 57 percent said no; 31 percent said yes. If a disabled person is not terminally ill, not in a coma, not on life support and without a written end-of-life directive, should he or she be denied food and water? Among those polled, 80 percent said no.

 The poll is not clear-cut. A majority of those questioned said elected officials should not intervene when the courts deny rights to the disabled and that elected officials shouldn't intervene to protect a disabled person's right to live, despite conflicting testimony. On the other hand, a razor-thin majority, 44 percent, agreed that the feds should intervene if a state court denies food and water to a disabled person; 43 percent disagreed.

 The bottom line: The conventional wisdom is off. It may well be that other polls showed voters disapproving of what Washington did, because they didn't know Schiavo left no written directive, that there was conflicting testimony on her end-of-life wishes or that her husband had two children with another woman.

 Conventional wisdom is also wrong in defining this case as a GOP issue. Not one Democratic senator voted against the measure to send the case to federal courts. As the Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Fund noted, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and Hillary Clinton each had a choice to vote against the bill, "and they didn't."

 Also, lefties Jesse Jackson, Nat Hentoff and Ralph Nader opposed removing the feeding tube. Ditto disability advocates. It's a bedrock issue: You don't deny food and water to a disabled woman unless you know for sure that she wants you to.

 My favorite post-Schiavo spin is that the Democrats are the party that wants to keep the government out of family life. Sure, that works -- if you forget that the Democrats want to take teenagers' birth control and abortion decisions away from parents, Democrats want taxpayers to pay for said birth control and abortions, and Democrats made spousal abuse a federal crime.

 You remember the alleged GOP memo that talked up how the Schiavo story was "a great political issue" that would hurts the Dems and help the GOP with its "pro-life base." ABC's Web site dubbed it the "GOP Talking Points on Terri Schiavo."

  It turns out, as The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz reported, "no one seems to know who wrote it." The Post's Mike Allen explained that the Post merely reported that the memo was "distributed to Republican senators," but he believed the document to be "authentic" and "used to attempt to influence Republican senators." How convenient that a memo, its authorship unknown, that misspelled Terri Schiavo's name and that said things only a moron would be dumb enough to put on paper, made it into ABC's and The Washington Post's hands.

 The kicker: A story that was supposed to be about the GOP running roughshod over a woman's end-of-life wishes isn't about her known wishes and isn't about the GOP, but about both parties.

  Polls showed that Americans opposed what Washington did, but a more in-depth poll suggests most voters strongly support the sentiments that drove Washington to intervene. The Democratic Party wants government out of family matters -- unless they involve children. And the memo that was supposed to show how craven the GOP is instead shows how gullible the media can be.

 Other than that, the conventional wisdom is solid.