Frist Stance Setback to American Taliban
Senator Frist’s flip flop on the stem cell issue may or may not help his rumored presidential bid in 2008, but it is a potentially historic shift in Republican policy.
The contemporary Republican Party is a coalition of 1) the corporate wealthy; 2) Southern whites (former Democrats) who are damned if they are going to be in the same party with Black people; Midwestern and Western rural folks who hate the government that gives them handouts; 4) Neoconservatives among Jews and Catholics who have a Wilsonian foreign policy emphasis but are more liberal on social issues and 5) evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. The party cleverly gives its small but fabulously wealthy corporate constituency economic benefits like tax cuts while offering its much larger constituencies among white Southerners and rightwing Christians mere symbolic gestures (Bush won’t attend meetings of the NAACP, and promotes issues dear to the hearts of evangelicals).
The coalition has been enormously successful, and has captured all three branches of government. But like all coalitions, it has important fissures. One divide is between the supporters of abortion rights and evangelicals and Catholics who are deadset opposed to them.
Among the Republican coalition, who would take on the evangelicals and conservative Catholics on the stem cell issue? 1) Biotech and pharmaceutical corporations that want to do research on stem cell cures and do not want to lose market share to British, Korean and other firms not hobbled by the Christian Taliban; 2) country club Republicans who believe in science and medicine, especially for themselves; 3) Jewish and Christian Neoconservatives that may be all for war in the Middle East but who rather like the idea of being saved from Alzheimers; and 4) old people and those with a prospect of getting old who know the odds.
Fifty percent of people who live past 85 (the fastest-growing segment of our population) will be stricken with Alzheimers. By 2030 the number of Alzheimer’s patients will double from 4.5 million to 9 million. Even now it costs about $60 billion a year to treat Alzheimers patients. Stem cell treatments hold the promise of reversing Alzheimers, a cruel disease that steals one’s ability even to remember loved ones. Diseases of dementia are among the fastest-growing health threats in the country.
The LA Times gives this quote: ‘ “We all want cures. We all want scientific cures. But there’s this great pause about the notion of taking that young human life for the purposes of research,” Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a key abortion foe, said on CBS. ‘
Uh, Sam– blastocytes are not “young human life,” or at least not moreso than acorns are saplings. And nobody is taking a human life here, as defined by US law. Moreover, the stem cells to be used come from embryos produced by in vitro fertilization for other reasons. There is no instrumental connection between the abortion and the harvesting of the stem cells.
Despite the odd occurrence of the word “scientific” in Brownback’s mouth, he is one of America’s Taliban. As this website notes, “The fact is, Sam Brownback is a member of this “elect” cult and has co-sponsored Senate bill 520, designed to allow federal, state, and local government officials to overrule all other laws by appealing to the “higher source” of all law (“God”) and to forbid the Supreme Court from doing anything about it.”
The principle that the individual has a right by virtue of his belief in God and scripture to act as a vigilante and disregard governmental law also underpins all Muslim radicalism, from Sayyid Qutb to Ayman al-Zawahiri (who want their own sort of “Dominion.)”
So what changed Frist’s mind? Was it a bad conscience after he misused his training as a physician to allege that brain-dead and blind Terry Schiavo “certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli”?
Or is it simply the mounting evidence that the science is sound? Stem cell opponents used to claim that all the miracle treatments posited for them had not actually been demonstrated.
But scientists extracted stem cells from the marrow of pigs that had had a heart attack, and injected the cells into the damaged hearts, repairing 50 to 75 percent of the damage! Johns Hopkins is beginning clinical trials for humans. Although this particular treatment depends on adult stem cells from marrow, those cells have much more limited ability to develop into various kinds of tissue than do embryonic stem cells. That is, contrary to what propagandists will tell you, the success of the adult stem cell treatments suggests that the cures possible with embryonic stem cells are far more wideranging.
Or has Frist had his people do some tracking polls and come to the conclusion that standing against stem cell research would actually be a drag on his presidential ambitions, because of the constituencies I mentioned above, who are all for it? Six in ten Americans are all for stem cell research, whereas only 3 in 10 are against it. Politicians go where the votes are.
Look, 13,000 women every year have abortions in this country because they were raped and did not want to bear the child of the monster who attacked and impregnated them. Every time you hear someone bring up “pro-life” propaganda, ask him or her if they are in favor of making these women bear their rapists’ children. If they are, then I should think they could fairly easily be defeated at the polls on that platform. Someone should please ask Senator Brownback this question, and ask the people of Kansas if that is really what they stand for. So even if we limited scientists to using fetal stem cells garnered from these abortions of the children of rapists, there would be plenty for scientific purposes. (I am told by a reader that federally funded research using fetal stem cells as opposed to embryonic ones [from in vitro fertilization] is not even on the table.)
By the way, I respect the views of those who believe that life begins with conception, I simply disagree with them vehemently. I don’t want to impose my views on them. What I resent is that they do want to impose their views on the rest of us, using the government (our common government) for this sectional purpose. Like the Taliban, who didn’t let people watch movies or have access to a whole range of technology because God told them it was bad, these folks are confusing their religious prejudices with divine revelation. Nobody cares if they want to deny themselves medical care. They should just please not deny it to the rest of us.
Meanwhile, one big question is whether the Christian Right as a dominant element in the Republican coalition has become so annoying to so many of the other coalition partners that the coalition might break apart, or at the very least become more independent of the evangelicals and fundamentalists (just as it is likely to become more independent of the Neoconservatives).