Much of the press coverage of the Schiavo case focused on a now-familiar split within the Republican Party between social conservatives--who insisted nothing mattered more than prolonging Terri Schiavo's life--and anti-government libertarians, who tut-tutted about the Republican leadership's encroachment on local autonomy. Some in the media, citing apocalyptic predictions from activists on both sides, went so far as to call Schiavo the beginning of a GOP schism.I doubt that, but at least Scheiber is right in criticizing the Dems for being unable to cobble together a set of positive values. Instead, professing only negatives, they always come off looking like vultures. (E.g., "How dare you suggest there's anything morally suspect about abortion!") As an example, Scheiber notes Bill Clinton's winning motto on abortion: "Safe, legal, and rare." Does it matter that Clinton cared not a whit about one-third of this formulation? It was a winner because it reached out -- not to the pro-life side, but to the majority of Americans in the middle. Likewise, on the Schiavo case, most Democrats seemed to be saying that, since there was no living will, the burden of proof landed squarely on those who opposed pulling the tube, and only religious fanatics could hold that position. As I said, the case was certainly more complex than that, but someone in the party has to look out for this kind of stuff. Again, the vital center of America felt enormous ambivalence on the issue. Why have most of the party pull a Howard Dean and start insulting those people?
In truth, the GOP has been finessing the uneasy alliance between libertarians and social conservatives for at least as long as pundits have been pointing it out. I suspect the party will pull through this time, too. Far more interesting--and politically more consequential--is an emerging Democratic split between social libertarians, who emphasize privacy, and what I'll call communitarians, for lack of a better word. Like social conservatives, the communitarians believe the government has a role to play in Schiavo-like dilemmas. If they prevail, it could help the Democratic Party reclaim its popular majority.
Put simply, and with realpolitik hat squarely on the noggin, if you want to move the center toward your party, speak with respect when you speak about those who disagree with you, even if you really do think they're a bunch of nuts and zealots.