Peggy Noonan's Schiavo mess

The conservative columnist advised Republicans that the Schiavo case was a no-lose proposition for them. Now she says that Americans who oppose her are headed toward the "low road that twists past Columbine and leads toward Auschwitz."

By Eric Boehlert
March 25, 2005 6:56PM (UTC)
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The next time Peggy Noonan offers GOP leaders free advice, for the sake of their party they might want to beg off. It was just one week ago that the Wall Street Journal columnist sounded the alarm for conservatives, urging Republicans -- for their own self-interest -- to take every step possible in order to save Terri Schiavo. "You have to pull out all the stops," Noonan implored.

A key element of Noonans strategy, besides the fact that it would please the GOPs pro-life base, was her insistence that the maneuver was completely risk-free because there was "just about no one" on the other side to oppose Republicans -- nobody who supported Michael Schiavo, the disaffected husband. No one, that is, accept for "the few bearded and depressed-looking academics he's drawn to his side." According to Noonan, "Politically this is a struggle between many serious people who really mean it and one, just one, strange-o." Better yet: "Move to help Terri Schiavo, and no one will be mad at you." In other words, a lay-up for Republicans.

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What a difference a week makes. With Congress and President Bush following Noonans advice almost to the letter -- issuing novel subpoenas, crafting last-minute legislation and trying to set all sorts of legal precedence -- polls indicate that the vast majority of Americans are in fact "mad" at Congress and Bush for intervening. Theyve sided with the "strange-o," the allegedly "disaffected husband," and not with Noonans army of "serious people." How bad is it for Republicans? According to Wednesdays CBS poll, job approval ratings for both the Republican Congress as well as Bush hit new lows this week.

So, in this weeks column does Noonan concede her errors, acknowledge she misread the mood of the country and apologize to Republican leaders for her monumentally wrong-headed political strategy? No. First, she rearranges the facts of the Schiavo legal battle to her liking. For instance, Noonan insists Terris "husband, and only her husband," said she would not want to live on life support. Thats simply not true. And either Noonan has not bothered to read the court records, or shes comfortable ignoring adjudicated facts. Then Noonan launches into vicious personal attacks against anyone who disagrees with her radical, pro-life minority agenda. (Noonan may be stridently pro-life, but dont bother looking for binders full of her anti-death penalty columns. They do not exist.) She belittles her opponents' "bizarre passion" for death and warns they are paving "the low road that twists past Columbine and leads toward Auschwitz."

The surreal part is that the targets of Noonans acid barbs (i.e. the "unstable," "unhinged," "red-fanged and ravenous" tube-pullers) include a majority of self-described "conservative Republicans" and "white evangelicals." According to the CBS and ABC polls, strong majorities in both of those groups agree that Congress and Bush were wrong to intervene in the Schiavo case. On this issue, Noonan has swum so far out of the mainstream that she can no longer see the Republican base.


Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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