Is Bush Becoming an Artful Dodger?

“Wherein is shown how the Artful Dodger got into trouble.” — Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, Chapter 43.

On May 18 of last year, then candidate George W. Bush stated that,

“I oppose federal funding for stem cell research that involves destroying living human embryos. I support innovative medical research on life-threatening and debilitating diseases, including promising research on stem cells from adult tissue.”

This promise led those in the Pro-Life movement, those who believe that an embryo is a person with all the rights accorded any person, to conclude that a President Bush would not permit federal funds to be spent on embryonic stem cell research. Embryonic stem cells are obtained by destroying embryos.After due deliberation, President Bush decided to permit federal funding of embryonic stem cell research under limited conditions. Private research has already produced a number (The President says 60, but there seems to be a question as to the exact value.) of stem cell lines that can be reproduced indefinitely. Although these lines arose from the destruction of embryos, the use of existing cell lines would not involve the destruction of any more embryos.

Does this recent decision square with Bush’s campaign promise? Technically it probably does. Bush proposes federal research that does not involve “destroying living human embryos,” but involved the destruction of embryos. The tense of the verb keeps Bush true to his campaign promise. However, Pro-Lifers have a legitimate complaint that Bush’s decision was inconsistent with his campaign promise.

Depending on the tense of the verb, “involves” vs “involved,” is so Clinton-like that we may ask the question whether Bush’s decision was an artful dodge or a sincere attempt to reconcile the conflicting interests of potential medical advances and respect for human life. Given Bush’s natural rhetorical clumsiness and unfamiliarity with the careful and conscious parsing of sentences in an effort to deceive, it unlikely that Bush deliberately sought to mislead the Pro-Life community. Indeed, the speech explaining his decision was so straightforward and balanced, giving a fair description of both sides of the embryonic stem cell research issue, it is reasonable to lay cynicism aside for the moment. Bush appears to have made a sincere effort to strike a reasonable balance.

Unfortunately for Bush, it is likely that such a compromise will not last long. The distinction of using previously destroyed embryos is very narrow and unlikely to stem the future destruction of embryos. If embryonic stem cell research succeeds, it is likely that more and more embryonic stem cells will be required not only for research, but therapy. The pressure will grow to generate more and a greater variety of embryonic stem cells. This pressure, perhaps at a time when Bush is no longer President, increases the possibility that more embryos will be destroyed. Bush should hope that the money he proposes to spend on research into alternative uncontroversial sources of stem cells, adults and umbilical cords, will make the use of embryonic stem cells unnecessary.

Although I personally support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research under somewhat broader constraints, for someone like Bush, who believes a person arises at conception, Bush’s decision comes dangerously close to encouraging future destruction of embryos.

On another issue, the Bush Administration seems to be hedging against the wishes of constituencies that elected him. The Bush Administration is preparing to defend preferential treatment based on ethnic heritage in federal contracting, taking the same side as the Clinton Administration.

In 1989, Adarand Construction Inc. lost its construction job, despite having the best bid, to Gonzalez Construction Company due to a Federal set aside. In the same year, the US Supreme Court issued the Croson ruling suggesting that preferential treatment could pass Constitutional muster only if narrowly tailored to remedy the effect of previous discrimination. There was no attempt by Department of Justice in this case to prove systematic previous discrimination in Federal contracts to Hispanic groups. The Clinton Administration has fought Adarand Construction Inc. for over a decade largely ignoring the Croson precedent.

It is generally considered good form to maintain the Justice Department’s position for pending cases as they pass from administration to administration. Nonetheless, the Adarand case is an important signature issue. The reticence of the Bush Administration to switch positions bespeaks of an Administration desperate to be viewed as “moderate” even in the face of principle.

The questions of embryonic stem cell research and the Adarand case are two very distinct and different issues. Each Bush decision can, perhaps, be argued on the merits. Bush’s constituency will be forgiving so long as the Bush Adminsitration appears to act of priniciple, even principle balance by necessary political compromise. However, if the Bush Administration is seen to split hairs on issue after issue and moves away from its core constituency as part of pure political calculation, they will please no one and insure a single term for the second George Bush.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.