The point is that this is pure symbolic politics--almost no one really wants to legislate policy on the basis of this case. Still, the Republicans, as Peggy Noonan points out, had better understand the importance of this symbolic battle.
The only unique thing about this case, of course, is the extended legal battle between Shiavo's husband and parents, and the media notoriety that has made it so ripe for political opportunism.
Do DeLay, his supporters in Congress, and those Men of God so conspicuously on display down in Florida really propose to picket every intensive care unit, nursing home, and hospice in America to ensure that no family facing Schiavo's situation is allowed to let their loved one die? Is Congress really going to legislatively ban natural death so long as some theoretical means is available to continue it? Oh no, says James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and DeLay's prime enabler in this weekend's grandstand play: the "emergency" legislation is "narrowly targeted" and not designed to set a precedent.
In other words, this is pure political exploitation of a private family conflict that's become a media sensation, even though it involves a very common, if, for the people involved, agonizing event.
As such, the GOP's Schiavo intervention is of a piece with other cynical efforts by Bush and his supporters to signal support for a "culture of life" without much regard for logic and consistency. It's a whole lot like the Bush position on human embryo research, as a matter of fact. Many thousands of human embryos are created each year in fertility clinics; it's only when it is proposed that these certain-to-be-discarded embryos be used for life-saving research that the Hammer comes down and Congress is asked to take a stand for life. Wouldn't want to inconvenience or embarass possible Republican voters utlilizing those fertility clinics, right?
Noonan is right about how this issue, like many others that will face the Republicans in the next four years, will uncover a fundamental faultline in the Republican base. The fundamentalists feel (not without justification) that they've delivered the goods to Bush twice now, and the time has come for Bush to start enacting the agenda. If he doesn't, there's going to be hell to pay. The wingers have waited long enough.
Once you paint yourself into an ideological corner, you ignore the pain on the floor at your own political peril.