Seven years ago, there was an unexpected political hullabaloo surrounding Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who'd been in a vegetative state for 15 years. When there was a disagreement among family members about her fate, it touched off a national controversy and unprecedented intervention from Washington.
Indeed, Congress took steps to prolong Schiavo's life -- passing legislation related to literally just this one person -- and President Bush even cut short a vacation to address the issue. At the time, an internal memo was distributed by a Republican senator's office characterizing the controversy as "a great political issue" that could pay dividends for the Republican Party with Christian conservatives.
Putting aside the callousness of exploiting a family's pain for partisan advantage, the GOP's political instincts served them poorly-- much of the American mainstream was repulsed by Washington policymakers' role in the Schiavo matter, and the intervention became a political fiasco for Republicans.
A new report (pdf) from Democracy Corps believes we may be witnessing a similar set of circumstances now, as GOP officials fight to restrict women's access to contraceptives. Greg Sargent reported yesterday:
The firm's poll finds that one of the most important factors powering Obama's gains against likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney has been the President's improving numbers among unmarried women, a key pillar of the present and future Democratic coalition.Among this group, Obama now leads Romney by 65-30 -- and there's been a net 18-point swing towards the President among them. [...]Concludes the memo: "We may yet look back on this debate and wonder whether this was a Terri Schiavo moment."
The report was put together before yesterday's hearing in which Republicans invited a series of conservative men to talk about blocking access to contraception and before Foster Friess' aspirin-between-the-knees comments, which certainly won't help.
Remember, when the Schiavo affair first began to unfold, Republicans were certain this would be political gold, and encouraged GOP officials to embrace the controversy with enthusiasm. Likewise, there are probably ample memos circulating in Republican offices about the value in attacking contraception this election year, gender gap be damned.
The party got the Schiavo matter wrong. All available polling evidence suggests they're making the same mistake on birth control.