President Bush appears poised for the first veto of his presidency. The cause that has finally pushed him to reject Congressional legislation? An attempt to expand funding for stem cell research that Bush hobbled back in 2001.
For millions of Americans, the potential fruits of stem cell research — in the form of cures to dangerous diseases — are a serious matter with grave personal import. For President Bush, the issue has always served as a political football.
On the one hand, Bush argues that the destruction of human embryos (microscopic organisms made up of a few cells) is a kind of killing. His press spokesman, Tony Snow, adopting the supercharged cant of anti-abortion activists, referred to it recently as “murder.” In order to stop such “murder,” Bush agreed in 2001 to limit all federal funding of stem cell research to a handful of pre-existing “lines” of cells — cells that had been created specifically for research. His argument was, let’s not use tax dollars to pay for the destruction of more embryos for the sake of research.
Here is why Bush’s position is a joke: Thousands and thousands of embryos are destroyed every year in fertility clinics. They are created in petri dishes as part of fertility treatments like IVF; then they are discarded.
If Bush and his administration truly believe that destroying an embryo is a kind of murder, they shouldn’t be wasting their time arguing about research funding: They should immediately shut down every fertility clinic in the country, arrest the doctors and staff who operate them, and charge all the wannabe parents who have been wantonly slaughtering legions of the unborn.
But of course they’ll never do such a thing. (Nor, to be absolutely clear, do I think they should.) Bush could not care less about this issue except as far as it helps burnish his pro-life credentials among his “base.” This has been true since the first airing of Bush’s position in 2001, as I said back then. So he finds a purely symbolic way of taking a stand, but won’t follow the logic of his position to the place where it might cause him any political harm — as opposing the family-building dreams of millions of middle-class Americans would doubtless do.
(And please don’t test our credulity with the laughable “Go ahead and do the research, but let’s not spend taxpayers’ money on things they don’t believe in” argument: If that had any bearing, my tax dollars would not be funding a war that 2/3 of the country opposes now that the specious arguments used to launch it have collapsed.)
If Bush believes destroying embryos is murder, let him take a real stand against it. If he doesn’t, he shouldn’t make it harder for the thousands of embryos that are being discarded anyway to be used for a valuable purpose that could improve real lives.
That’s why Bush’s stem cell position isn’t Solomonic — it’s craven. His upcoming veto is an act not of moral leadership but of hypocrisy. And the cost of this hypocrisy, assuming Congress can’t muster the votes for an override, will be borne by everyone who dreams of new cures for awful illnesses.
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