|08-11-2001, 04:10 AM||#1|
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: New Brunswick, NJ, USA
BIRNBAUM ON WASHINGTON
BIRNBAUM ON WASHINGTON
Stem Cell, Strong Sell
Bush's speech Thursday night opened the door to embryonic stem-cell research, and did him a world of political good. FORTUNE.COM
Friday, August 10, 2001
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
George W. Bush delivered a thoughtful, eloquent explanation Thursday night of his preference for allowing limited stem-cell research by the federal government. In his Ô¨?rst televised speech to the American people as President, he worked hard, maybe a little too hard, at showing how thoroughly he studied and then mastered the complex, profound issues at stake. He effectively undercut the raps against him that he is camera-shy and slow-witted.
He hasn't heard the end of the controversy, however. He is almost certain to face legislation that would permit federal funding for stem-cell research that uses actual embryos. Bush said he wanted to fund research that utilized only the stem cells that already have been extracted from embryos, and that he would oppose the destruction of any new embryos for the purpose. Democratic leaders in Congress doubt that as many "lines" of stem cells exist as the President asserted (more than 60), and believe that more of them must be created to properly conduct that promising research into cures for diseases. They will press to broaden the types of research that the federal government will back, and Bush will have a tough time stopping the effort.
If you listened closely to the address, Bush appeared to leave room for compromise. He was hazy about why and whether he would rule out using frozen embryos created for fertilization purposes that would otherwise be discarded. Senator Bill Frist (R-Tennessee), a physician and leader on the issue in Congress, has suggested that those embryos could ethically be used to create stem cells as long as the parents gave their permission. If Bush's initial proposal proves to be too conservative, the Frist addendum could be a compromise.
In the meantime, Bush did himself a world of good politically. He did little to rile his base of pro-life activists by hewing to the line that no embryos should be destroyed using federal dollars. At the same time, he opened the door to research on embryonic stem cells, which showed a progressive streak that the rest of the American people (read: a solid majority of voters) needed to see in their President. He also showed that he really was working on our behalf, despite the appearance that he was vacationing for a full month. And he showed that he is capable of thinking deeply about cutting-edge issues and has a knack for Ô¨?nding a middle ground that solves important problems.
In short, he demonstrated presidential leadership in a way he hadn't attempted before. Republican insiders worried prior to the address that he had chosen an obscure, no-win topic for his Ô¨?rst nationally televised speech. But Bush knew better. He understood that bioethics is a political frontier that presidents will have to address in the new century. He also was willing to risk a display of courage. Sometimes that backÔ¨?res. But not this time. Bush has come out a winner.