Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bumrush the "Stem Cell Ban" Meme 

Recent articles and posts about Senator Frist's “change of heart” on stem-cell research (which isn't really a change at all, but we'll discuss that later), continue to rehash the tried and untrue popular meme that ties the words “Bush,” “embryonic stem-cell,” “research” and “ban” all together very neatly. In their discussions, even the esteemed Glenn Reynolds, Roger Simon and Bill at INDC are quick to leave the impression, if not say outright, that these words belong together. While I assign no malicious left-wing conspiracy intent to them, it does not escape me that the common wisdom (such as it is) on the matter is precisely what the left-wing would wish it to be. Neither does it escape me that this common wisdom is at best inaccurate and misleading and at worst an intentional misrepresentation of the issues at hand.

Bush has banned stem-cell research based upon his religious views

I'll bet a paycheck that a majority of casual news consumers along with a substantial number of news junkies would agree that the preceding statement sums up the controversy. How, then does this square with President Bush's well considered remarks on August 9, 2001, when he became the only president to have ever federally funded embryonic stem-cell research? And while I'm not one to casually drag the ghost of Bill Clinton out to make a partisan point, there is no denying that in 1999 the National Bioethics Advisory Commission “recommended [to President Bill Clinton] that publicly funded research go forward,” with the caveat that “embryos not be created solely for research purposes.” When President Clinton subsequently rejected this recommendation, though, I remember no hue and cry in these same quarters. I use this séance not to say “Bush is better,” but rather to highlight what to me is obvious partisan rather than pricipal motivation on behalf of Bush’s greatest critics.

Ignoring inconvenient facts to make your point has always been a staple of the political life, but it has also become a far too common occurrence in the Main Stream Media, as well. I believe that one reason many politically-focused blogs find themselves in ascendancy today is their willingness to examine and present all facts, good and bad, and to attempt to demonstrate by logic and good writing how the truths exposed best support one's positions. This candid examination of facts is in my mind tantamount to the trust the readers place in the individual blog authors, and trust is the coin of the realm in privately published on-line media. To support the wrong assumptions inherent in the “Bush has banned stem-cell research” meme, either by repeating them or failing to challenge them, betrays that trust. As such, I will try to present the facts I know about this issue:
Now, getting back to Senator Frist's “second opinion,” as it was referred to in a political cartoon Glenn linked to. The press got itself in a tizzy over the Senator “opposing Bush’s ban” so fast it failed to notice that this “reversal” is really little more than a restatement of a position he first made public July 18, 2001.
Q: What is the basic difference between Senator Frist's and President Bush's positions?
A: The Senator supports the harvesting of stem-cells from blastocysts (or pre-embryos) left over from in vitro fertilization therapy that would otherwise be discarded.

Q: How does Senator Frist's position differ from the recommendation President Clinton rejected?
A: Not at all, since both explicitly ban the creation of embryos solely for research purposes.

Q: So why the new announcement the other day?
A: Because the availability and condition of the stem-cells that existed at the time President authorized funding have been reevaluated and Senator Frist now feels they are inadequate for the research desired. The Senator also emphasized shortcomings in the current proposal that could provide loopholes for abuse of the limitations established.
So the basic facts that are (in some cases) intentionally muddied or ignored are:Bush's ban on federal funding

This is an important issue, one that deserves more than a four or five-word sound bite that is factually wrong. I have no problem with someone disagreeing with the President’s policy, nor with an accurate examination of the Senator's varying support. I do, however, have a problem with straw-man arguments that are based upon patently false premises and with those who aid in masking these false impressions rather than exposing them. You don’t have to agree with the President to say the argument most commonly used against him is pure bunk; you just have to be honest.

Update: For clarity, I'm not calling any of the above mentioned bloggers dishonest, but I do think that by not clearly highlighting the errors in the "Bush's ban" meme they tacitly help others to be dishonest. Maybe I'm ranting over semantics, but it seems that the word "ban" in this context clearly implies a complete prohibition on the said activities while an alternative, such as "limitation" not only more accurately represents the reality of the issue but also does not cary the partisan political baggage the MSM and others have tied to the phrase "Bush's ban."

Update: Oops, in my attempt to clarify I left out the word "not" (italicized above). I've also clarified that Senator Frist's support has always been for federal funding of stem cell research.

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