ON THE USES AND ABUSES OF TERRI SCHIAVO….What’s the Terri Schiavo case really about? A mug’s game, maybe, but it’s worth pointing to two related theories today.

First there’s Garance Franke-Ruta, who writes at Tapped that the real goal is “packing the courts with President Bush’s conservative judicial nominees.” Mark Kleiman agrees, and even goes a bit further. In a pair of posts (here and here), he argues that congressional Republicans may have deliberately botched their custom-tailored emergency Schiavo legislation last weekend because they wanted to lose, thus ginning up a bit of useful grassroots fury in preparation for using the “nuclear option” later this year to ram through George Bush’s ultra-conservative judicial nominees. Conservatives themselves seem to agree, as Janet Hook reported a few days ago in the LA Times:

Many of the activists are urging GOP leaders to move more aggressively this spring to win confirmation of Bush’s judicial nominees.

They argue that the Schiavo case reinforces the importance of placing conservatives in the judiciary.

“This is just one more perfect portrait of why we need to have fair and just men on the bench,” said Lanier Swann, director of government relations for Concerned Women of America, a conservative group that has made the Schiavo case a priority.

The second (and related) theory comes from Ed Kilgore, who says it’s yet another front in the pro-life abortion campaign:

In the end, the Schindlers and their crusade is ultimately becoming just another battle in the right-to-life movement’s long war to force a redefinition of life and the legal protections afforded it from the moment of conception to biological death.

We all need to understand this this is what the case is really about, and (a) ignore the legal and factual arguments being thrown out as tactical maneuvers by the anti-abortion activists and Republican politicians pursuing this issue, because they don’t mean them for a moment, and (b) recognize that for most of the protestors marching in support of the Schindlers, the photos of poor Terri Schiavo (may she someday rest in peace) they wave are just this week’s version of the fetus posters they brandish every day of the year.

My guess? Everyone is right, although I doubt it’s quite as premeditated as they’re making it out to be. At this point, both the culture wars and their newfound brand of institutional arrogance are so ingrained in the Republican party’s DNA that I suspect this stuff is strategized on a practically unconscious level.

And in the end, that may end up being the only good news in this affair: that DeLay and company never really thought this through. As Julie Saltman reports, the government activism inherent in the Schiavo case may finally be creating a split in the conservative movement itself, as old-style small-government Republicans finally revolt against a party leadership seemingly in perpetual obeisance to a know-nothing wing of crude religious demagoguery. As Republican Christopher Shays of Connecticut put it, “This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy.”

Yep. The only question is, will Shays and his likeminded rationalists finally try to do something about it?

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