The Note: Lessons, Questions, and Choices

WASHINGTON, March 25

NEWS SUMMARY

This morning, Judge James Whittemore denied the latest appeal by Terri Schaivo's parents to restore her feeding tube. And late Thursday, Florida's Supreme Court also issued a ruling backing a lower court judge's refusal to allow the state to take custody of Schiavo.

Another trip to the 11th Circuit is on tap for today, as Christian conservative groups exert maximum pressure on Gov. Jeb Bush to do something.

If you watched "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings" last night, you'd hear Gov. Bush saying he'd do everything he could within his powers -- but he wouldn't exceed them.

Having read, and thought, and reported, and talked, and thought some more, we still are not sure at all what impact the Schiavo case might have in the short-, medium-, and long-terms on American politics.

Right now, although we are paid to offer up our views, the best we can do is say: as the nation reflects and watches basketball this weekend, here are some questions that will be batted around in certain circles:

1. What does all this do to the Democratic Party's struggle to deal with issues of "faith" and "values"? If Ms. Schiavo dies, will the polling data that has spooked some Republicans -- and simultaneously emboldened and confused some Democrats -- shift? Who are the most likely candidates to be punished by voters for "playing politics" with the issue?

2. Does this hurt the GOP in 2006? Can Democrats find tasteful ways to bring it up?. (If they can finesse this into a federalism issue or link it with privacy issues in a way that respects the claims on Terri Schiavo's life, maybe.) In the end, which party is more divided on this case?

3. Does this hurt Frist in 2008? He's lost respect from some of his doctor peers and there's oppo around that suggests his position on this wasn't always as clear. Did he gain the respect, finally, of conservative Christians? Or is the focus too much on Tom DeLay for that to have happened? Why did Frist's office put out a statement yesterday (in the name of the communications director) explaining that Frist hadn't intended to issue a diagnosis-by-videotape, as some have charged and some medical types (and pundits) have criticized? How will the Florida media treat Frist when he is there next week for a Social Security town meeting?

4. Does this make judicial confirmation battles more easy or less easy for the White House? (Unclear.) It certainly adds to the arsenal of "judicial arrogance" weapons the Republicans have rhetorically, but we can't help but think that the Schiavo case will come up in, say, Sen. Kennedy's questioning during hearings, and we're eager to see what conservative jurists have to say about the balance of power.

5. Does this galvanize the GOP base? Part of it? Alienate others?

6. Does this make it easier for Christian conservatives to exercise their political chits? Or will the GOP conferences conclude that their allies on the Right overreached?

7. Does Schiavo, given the wall-to-wall media coverage, enhance, or reduce, congressional approval ratings?

8. Whither Tom DeLay? Or: Welcome back, Tom DeLay? How will the next round of ethics stories play in light of all this?

9. How well do Democrats think their leadership prepared them for the post-vote public debates? Will Howard Dean become more outspoken on the issues involved?

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