The Banality of Politics: Bush's Stem Cell Decision

Jameson Taylor
Permission Granted

The reason things keep getting worse and worse is because reasonable people keep compromising more and more. Eighty years ago, when Margaret Sanger led the campaign to legalize birth control, Americans were told that the Pill was necessary in order to prevent back–alley abortions. Reasonable people–moderates–who truly thought that abortion was a horrible crime, were persuaded by Sanger's logic. Thirty years ago, the “moderates” accepted Roe v. Wade's fictional discovery of a constitutional right to abortion because they were persuaded that if abortion was legal we could better regulate and limit this horrible “procedure.” Such moderates, moved by the testimony of those suffering from Parkinson's and diabetes, now similarly condone the destruction of human embryos. President Bush's recent embryonic stem cell (ESC) decision was obviously calculated to impress these moderates. As columnist and sometime political consultant Dick Morris deduced, “I think that Bush feels that he has moved too far to the right... He sees this as a way to move to the middle so as not to outrage the moderates who backed him as a compassionate conservative. He will undoubtedly use this decision to show that he is not a doctrinaire right winger. It also might help him out of a dilemma if he gets a Supreme Court retirement by showing that he can be trusted on issues like these.”

The first step requires redefining what is currently perceived to be moderate (but was once really quite radical) as “ultra–conservative”–code for irrational and tyrannical. Such logic was recently employed by a prominent expert in family law and children's rights who concluded that if President Bush were to deny federal funding to ESC researchers, he would inevitably make both abortion and the Pill — because it is an abortifacient — illegal. Bush's decision, it was argued, would result in the imprisonment of millions of American women. Now, many of us would agree that Bush should make both abortion and contraception illegal. Given that abortion is murder, we also quite logically think that abortionists, like all murderers, should go to jail. We who think these things, in fact, merit the contemporary “ultraconservative” label — remembering, of course, that by such standards nearly everyone in the United States prior to the 1965 Griswold Supreme Court decision would also be an “ultra-conservative.”

George W. Bush, however, does not hold the “ultra-conservative” pro–life position. By stating that he would allow for abortions in cases of rape and incest, Bush grants that while abortion is murder, there are circumstances in which abortion is justifiable. Bush has rarely mentioned, if at all, the fact that the Pill is an abortifacient. Bush has adopted a centrist pro–life position that he thinks will be tolerated by both we “ultra–conservative” pro–lifers and the “moderates.”

Regarding ESC research, Bush promised during the campaign to “oppose federally funded research for experimentation on embryonic stem cells that require live human embryos to be discarded or destroyed.” Bush's 9 August 2001 announcement to fund research on stem cell lines “created from embryos that have already been destroyed,” is perfectly consistent with his pledge not to fund “research… that require live human embryos to be discarded or destroyed.” Once again, President Bush has proven himself far more clever than most of us ever expected. In any case, Bush's position is, in fact, “moderate,” but was portrayed by the media as “ultra-conservative.”

So, if Bush is not a conservative, but a moderate, what is the “official” “ultra–conservative” position regarding stem cell research? Wake up! Embryonic stem cell research is already legal! If President Bush's primary concern were the advancement of the Culture of Life, he would have introduced legislation protecting human embryos from private researchers, like those at the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Norfolk, Va., who have already “intentionally created human embryos from donor eggs and sperm with the sole purpose” of destroying the embryos to obtain stem cells.

Indeed, nine states — as varied in political ideology as Louisiana is from Massachusetts — already prohibit all research that entails experimentation on human embryos. These states are Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Dakota. (Whether President Bush's decision will affect such legislation is unclear.) Fifteen more states have expressed legislative intent to outlaw harmful experimentation on human embryos, and 37 states, along with the District of Columbia, have passed civil and criminal laws affirming that life begins at conception. Guided by the Nuremberg Code of Research Ethics that emerged from the Nuremberg trials, Germany absolutely prohibits the destruction of human embryos for research purposes as well as the freezing of human embryos — a process with a mortality rate as high as 50 percent. Eight other European Union nations have also outlawed ESC research. Even communist China technically forbids research on embryonic tissue. Suddenly, the “ultra–conservative” position does not seem so radical, after all.