If Mere Dog-Whistling Schiavo Not Enough, Jeb’s In Big Trouble

Beth Reinhard has an interesting piece at the Wall Street Journal today about how Jeb Bush intends to deal with perhaps his most famous act as Governor of Florida: his aggressive intervention in a family matter involving one Terri Schiavo, which eventually embroiled his brother the President of the United States and the U.S. Senate. I noted earlier this month that some Christian Right folk in Iowa actually think Jeb did not do enough for Terri. Perhaps that is one reason why Team Job has resolved on a Dog Whistle Only approach to the saga. But it’s only one reason, since it’s hard to dispute that beyond the GOP “base” the whole thing was an early warning sign that something really strange was happening to the Republican Party.

In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll after Ms. Schiavo’s death in 2005, 51% said removing her feeding tube was “the right thing to do,” while 38% said it was wrong. Polls of Florida voters showed a higher percentage disapproved of the governor’s role than in a national poll, although he remained popular overall in his state.

So Bush is giving a wide berth to a 10th anniversary commemoration of Schiavo’s death, sponsored by the elements of her family who were fighting her husband’s efforts to let her die in peace. But:

“I’ve not heard too many people talking about what Bush did for Terri Schiavo, and time has gone by, so I think it’s important that he take the opportunity eventually to tell that story to the people who don’t think he’s a conservative,” said Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition.

So this will definitely get the dog whistle treatment in the appropriate circles–where surrogates can also answer questions about why Jeb didn’t risk impeachment or jail by defying the ultimate court order in the case that ended the saga.

I say all this by way of predicting that if Jeb begins openly discussing the Schiavo case, it will be a sign he is in deep trouble in the nominating contest. Mark my words.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.