« For DC Readers | Main | Follow-Up »

July 19, 2006

The Politics of Stem Cells

Just how well could a Rove trick work if a Rove trick could work well? My guess is we'll find out later today, when Bush uses his single veto to condemn stem cell research to at least a couple more years of stagnation. The conventional political analysis here is that this is unpopular, that even Republicans support the bill and Bush will take a hit by kowtowing to his Christianist base. He won't. Three reasons:

  1. This is actually the optimal political outcome for the right. Individual representatives can vote for the bill, protecting themselves from DCCC ads in 2006, while the Christian Right won't heavily mobilize against them because the legislation, after all, failed. Bush's veto allows all manner of Senators and Congresscritters to cast a "Yea" without actually threatening the social conservatives. Vulnerable pols can appeal to the middle without wrecking the coalition.
  2. Rove's reputation may be overblown, but he does have a few insights. One is that voters can appreciate an act they dislike on the merits. Bush's veto here will prove politically useful precisely because it's unpopular -- just another scrap of evidence that he's a man who knows what he believes, follows his gut, protects his core values, etc. And, in the end, the electoral upside to instilling those perceptions in the electorate is exponentially greater than the likely benefits of signing a stem cell research bill. Voters will always prefer a president they like to one they agree with. As Clinton likes to say, strong and wrong beats weak and right.
  3. As you can already see, various rightwing legislators plan to muddle the issue with bullshit bills meant to promote non-embryonic stem cell research. While they may eventually prove viable avenues, they're useless in the immediate term -- holding out for such advances is like refusing to use renewables until all cars can run on hydrogen. But science is complicated, and the media will muck this one up till none understand why the Senate would want to use embryonic research when we can just grow the cells with a rock crystal set.

And, of course, while all this ace political posturing goes on, possible advances from stem cell research will be delayed, and those who would greatly benefit from the possible cures and therapies will continue to live imprisoned in their deteriorating bodies. Few doubt that stem cell research will eventually, even rapidly, be legalized and well-funded, but none can doubt that many more will suffer because the president has to prove that, for-the-record, he's opposed.

Update: In case you feel I'm not giving enough credence to the moral argument against such research, allow me to quote Darksyde's excellent primer on the science, logistics, and future of stem cells:

Embryonic Stem Cell lines come from material stored at fertility clinics which is already slated for destruction. Preventing these blastocysts from being used for research won't 'save' them. It simply means they'll be disposed of in a medical waste facility instead of being used to find cures for disease. The only reason to restrict federal approval of new lines is to appeal to a minority of extremist social conservatives and it comes at the cost of possibly delaying or denying treatment--and in some cases life itself--to millions of people.

Understand that graf, as no single point is more important in the moral argument: these blastocysts would be destroyed anyway. Not a single life is spared, or saved, in the barring of stem cell research. But in delaying possible cures and treatments, an untold number will be lost.

July 19, 2006 | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c572d53ef00d8342a2a7753ef

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Politics of Stem Cells:

Comments

just another scrap of evidence that he's a man who knows what he believes, follows his gut, protects his core values, etc.

This is part of the "he's unpopular but likeable" thesis, though, which has been thoroughly discredited by now. Bush has been standing steady behind an intensely unpopular policy on the war for a very long time now, and it's certainly not getting many war opponents to admire his strong leadership skills. And while I agree that this doesn't hurt the GOP Congress directly, it certainly tarnishes them indirectly. The worse Bush looks, the worse the party looks, and no Republican, no matter how heretical, can completely distance himself from Bush at this point (see Linc Chafee).

Bush is going to veto this because he has no other choice, not because it's going to help him. He's dug himself in so deep with the far right that they're just about the only people left supporting him; anything other than a veto would be a slap in the face to a base that's constantly threatening to bolt as it is.

Pundits tend to be very quick to jump and point out just which Rovian tricks have worked and how brilliant the man is, but the fact is that two thirds of Americans can't stand George Bush, and that's a sign of a political operative who's just not very good at his job. At some point we're going to have to admit that Bush's successes were largely our failures and not the product of diabolically brilliant political machinations.

Posted by: Christmas | Jul 19, 2006 10:23:07 AM

While the frenzy swirls around the stem cell issue, let's all remember that this bill doesn't outlaw or keep outlawed any stem cell research. What it does is prevent federal tax money from going into this research. That's about it.
Many here rail against their tax money going to fight a war that they are against, but can't understand why someone else would not want their tax money to go toward something that they find detestable.
Angling to show a reason to allow this, they point out that many of the destroyed embryos would never develop into people anyway. We could say the same thing about those who are destined to be executed. Why not harvest organs? Why let them go to waste?
I must always remind myself that for the left, it's about getting the government money to flow and it's about politics. For the right, it's not. It's a moral issue and doesn't involve attempting to flow government money anywhere.

Posted by: Fred Jones. | Jul 19, 2006 10:36:56 AM

It's just amazing to me that out of all the issues facing our country - security, fiscal, economic, you-name-it, that Bush seems to think that this is the most important. It was the subject of his very first address to the nation back in Summer of 2001 while the 9/11 hijackers were gathering to finalize their plot, and now it's the subject of his first and only veto. Sure it's nice that he's a man who knows what he believes, etc. - but *this* is such a huge defining issue of our age?? WTF???

Posted by: Andy | Jul 19, 2006 11:10:37 AM

"Angling to show a reason to allow this, they point out that many of the destroyed embryos would never develop into people anyway. We could say the same thing about those who are destined to be executed. Why not harvest organs? Why let them go to waste?"
Because I see a difference between a human being and an embryo. You do not. We differ on that fundamental point. Also that harvesting organs from those sentenced to capital punishment makes executioners of the doctors, violating a fundamental principle of their profession. Entertaining fundies' notions of a zyogte's personhood is not part of their profession.

"I must always remind myself that for the left, it's about getting the government money to flow and it's about politics. For the right, it's not. It's a moral issue and doesn't involve attempting to flow government money anywhere."

Really? Curing diseases and letting the crippled walk and improving the quality of life isn't a moral issue?

Posted by: Kylroy | Jul 19, 2006 11:11:05 AM

Fred's moral obtuseness is extraordinary. He's incapable of seeing as a moral issue the question of using our collective resources to find cures for the diseases and disabilities that plague his fellow citizens. For Fred, the only moral issue is that a few multi-cell blobs of plasm might be destroyed in some way other than the way that God intended: miscarriage or failure to implant/

And of course, the blastocysts in question will simply sit in freezers until they're finally beyond viability for any purpose. I assume that Fred is willing to ban fertility procedures or regulate them to prevent further blastocysts from suffering this cruel suspension of their God-ordained destiny, and he's willing to tell all those wealthy families who are willing to pay for this procedure that they don't deserve to have babies, since God is preventing them from doing it the natural way.

Or perhaps Fred is willing to foot the bill to implant each and every one of those blastocysts in willing (married) women, to ensure that both the blastocysts and the women meet their God-ordained destiny. Or perhaps he'd prefer an active market in blastocysts -- that would be the preferred non-governmental solution.

After all, every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great. If a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.

Posted by: paperwight | Jul 19, 2006 11:17:13 AM

It's just amazing to me that out of all the issues facing our country - security, fiscal, economic, you-name-it, that Bush seems to think that this is the most important.

*YOU* seem to think it's important! And how much time does it take to veto a bill anyway?

Posted by: Fred Jones. | Jul 19, 2006 11:20:56 AM

Ezra has the political impact correct, but Christmas's point makes it clear: He's dug himself in so deep with the far right that they're just about the only people left supporting him; anything other than a veto would be a slap in the face to a base that's constantly threatening to bolt as it is.

But assuming that the religious right is totally unified (down to the individual level) on this issue is incorrect. Because of personal or family medical issues and the general morality of trying to prevent devastating diseases with new treatments, the right isn't totally together - only their organizations are, not the ground soldiers.

This issue won't be defining for the election. The veto shores up support where it's needed on the religious right, and maybe provides some cover for endangered species in the Republican Congress, but bigger issues will dominate voter decisions: we aren't better off than we were 6 years ago, Iraq is a disaster, Congress is shameful, and the people have had enough.


Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jul 19, 2006 11:23:51 AM

Dear Ezra: I must disagree with your political analysis here. Perhaps the only kind of science the average voter believes in is medical science. TV news has been running "how medical breakthroughs will help you live forever" since I was a child many decades ago. That's a powerful force to oppose with merely false "religious" cant.

Posted by: JMG | Jul 19, 2006 11:29:23 AM

Because I see a difference between a human being and an embryo.

And not everyone agrees with you.

Posted by: Fred Jones. | Jul 19, 2006 11:32:16 AM

And how much time does it take to veto a bill anyway?

At a bare minimum, all of the time and energy that everyone who actually worked on the bill put into it. Really, Fred is not just morally obtuse.

Posted by: paperwight | Jul 19, 2006 11:43:21 AM

At a bare minimum, all of the time and energy that everyone who actually worked on the bill put into it.

And how does this translate into "Bush seems to think that this is the most important." Which was what I was responding to until you decided to stick your fat head into the conversation.

Any other unrelated statements you would like to make, there, paperweight?

Posted by: Fred Jones. | Jul 19, 2006 11:55:27 AM

Fred: until you decided to stick your fat head into the conversation.

Conservatism/Republicanism at work: when you can't argue the facts, or the politics, attack the person. That's all they have.

One sould wonder why Fred doesn't recognize that he repeatedly sticks his fat head into the conversation here to no apparent gain for anyone in understanding the issues. But that's another facet of the conserative/Republican "New Think", which is a synonym for hypocrisy - bald, bold, and clueless.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jul 19, 2006 12:06:52 PM

Let's compromise. How about this: since we are in the habit of sending fully formed, thinking, breathing, loving humans off to war - and kill them in the name of some ultimate sacrifice, why not take these oh-so-precious blastocysts, name them, use them for the highest good, for the ultimate sacrifice, take their cytoplasmic remains and put them in teeny tiny silver coffins, and bury them with full honors in Arlington. Right next to the remains of the fully formed, formerly thinking, formerly loving, humans.

Posted by: Humbert Dinglepencker | Jul 19, 2006 12:23:23 PM

It's a moral issue and doesn't involve attempting to flow government money anywhere.

Except into the pockets of other conservatives.

So Fred, do you think that liberals are persons? Because it isn't clear from the principles of conservatism that you think so.

Posted by: Dr. Squid | Jul 19, 2006 12:25:44 PM

And how much time does it take to veto a bill anyway?

In Bush's case, about 5 and a half years.

Posted by: Dr. Squid | Jul 19, 2006 12:26:58 PM

"Because I see a difference between a human being and an embryo.
And not everyone agrees with you. "

Well, that's true. Let's put the classic poser before you, Fred: you're in a burning fertility clinic. As you reach the exit, there are two locked doors. Behind one is a three-year old child. Behind the other is a cooler with 100 blastocysts in it. Which do you save first?

Naturally, since each of those blastocysts is a soul that must be saved, I'll assume you'll take the blastocysts.

Posted by: Kylroy | Jul 19, 2006 12:46:22 PM

you're in a burning fertility clinic. As you reach the exit, there are two locked doors. Behind one is a three-year old child. Behind the other is a cooler with 100 blastocysts in it. Which do you save first?

Naturally, since each of those blastocysts is a soul that must be saved, I'll assume you'll take the blastocysts.

Yeah, I'd respect those who are supposedly "pro-life" if they gave a damn for anyone after they were born.

Posted by: Stephen | Jul 19, 2006 1:59:30 PM

Again, let's be clear. There are no laws currently and this veto did not outlaw any research, on embryonic stem cells. Anyone that wants to can do so.


Posted by: Fred Jones. | Jul 19, 2006 3:17:28 PM

Shorter Fred: I prefer not to answer the question about the legitimacy of the position I'm defending.

Posted by: paperwight | Jul 19, 2006 3:28:59 PM

Ezra, you overstate things a tad (and simultaneously understate them). This won't "cripple stem cell research" -- this will only cripple stem cell research in the US. Stem cell research will continue in Korea, China, Japan, India, Europe and other places that will neatly kick our asses in the Biomedical Revolution when the time comes. When US Pharma companies are going hat-in-hand to beg for patent rights from Indian companies, you'll know that this blunder has hurt us substantially.

This, by the way, is the "cadaver debate" from TWO CENTURIES AGO rearing its head again. Is it ethical to perform scientific inquiries on dead bodies? Well, after a long and tortuous amount of legal wrangling and objections from the religious community, the answer ended up being Yes, with certain caveats. And biological and medical sciences profitted from the result. In the end, the same will eventually be the case with embryonic stem cells - Yes, with certain caveats - and we need to get our collective heads out of our asses, realize that this will be the eventual outcome, and just do it now, instead of falling decades behind the rest of the world.

Posted by: NonyNony | Jul 19, 2006 3:30:43 PM

Shorter Fred: I prefer not to answer the question about the legitimacy of the position I'm defending.

Ahhhhh....once again Mr. paperweight has opted for the fight. However, there is no fight except the one in his head from the bad wiring.
The truth is, I have not defended anything or anyone. What I *have* done is point out that there are, indeed, other opinions besides the ones held by Salon and commondreams. So what?

You want my opinion? You're a wacko. Want another opinion? Just ask.

Posted by: Fred Jones. | Jul 19, 2006 3:36:38 PM

To see the stem cell debate explained with visuals and how the political argument put forth by the President is ultimately an absurd manipulation of the facts...link here:

www.thoughttheater.com

Posted by: Daniel DiRito | Jul 19, 2006 3:48:09 PM

Shorter Fred: I prefer not to answer the question about the legitimacy of the position I'm defending.

Posted by: paperwight | Jul 19, 2006 4:03:51 PM

"Because I see a difference between a human being and an embryo.

And not everyone agrees with you. "

Certainly you are right, but thos peoples convictions are either based upon a lack of thought upon the subject. Blind faith doesnt take a great deal of intellect.

Place an emryo and a human child on a train track. Send down a speeding train and give any given person the time to save only one. The ones who have a hard time making this decision wouldnt have the sympathy of many.

Posted by: david b | Jul 19, 2006 4:06:32 PM

Darksyde's argument is spot on. If someone can't recognize that simply logic, then there really is no more use arguing with that person. At this point, my only response in a debate such as this is, "Sorry, but you're wrong."

Its like this guy recently who tried to fight me because he thought I was in a handicapped parking spot. I clearly was not, but he just couldn't get it through his brain. I had to calmly walk away, twice, or we would have had to throw down. He must have been a Republican.

Posted by: Adrock | Jul 19, 2006 4:08:48 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.