President Bush’s veto of the embryonic-stem-cell bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday sends a clear political message: This presidency is personal.
Polls from a dozen different sources consistently show that over 70 percent of Americans support research on embryonic stem cells. In some studies, two-thirds of Catholics and a sizable majority of those identifying themselves as evangelical Christians support the research. Sixty-three members of the U.S. Senate voted for the bill Tuesday, including a number with strong pro-life, conservative credentials, such as Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchMnuchin's former bank comes under scrutiny Trump’s economic team taking shape Huntsman considering run for Senate in 2018 MORE (R-Utah).
There is no political logic to this move. As Sen. Hatch has said, “We can count on building our forces more and more until this is a reality.” He added that a veto would set domestic science back “a year or two.”
State legislatures are voting to fund stem-cell research. Wisconsin, home to the university that first isolated embryonic stem cells, is investing millions of dollars in a medical-research complex dedicated to the research. California passed a $3 billion bond measure in 2004 to fund stem-cell research.
Missouri has a pro-stem-cell measure on the ballot this year that is leading in the polls by healthy double digits and is attracting an unprecedented level of fund raising support. A measure is circulating in Florida for the 2008 ballot, and there is serious talk of pro-stem-cell initiatives in Ohio and Michigan in 2008 as well.
This year, the issue could make the difference in some tight U.S. Senate races. In Missouri, Democrat state Auditor Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillDefense bill tackles retaliation against military sex assault victims Red-state Dems face tough votes on Trump picks Vulnerable Dems ready to work with Trump MORE is running well ahead of Republican Sen. Jim Talent, and stem-cell research is one of the reasons. McCaskill supports it; Talent opposes and, in fact, voted against the bill Tuesday. The Bush veto could hurt other Republicans in tight races, such as Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
A White House that has frequently calibrated policy statements for maximum impact in an election year just has no running room on this issue. The president’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove, offered the rather lame explanation that “we were all an embryo at one point” to The Denver Post last week.
White House spokesman Tony Snow got to the nub of the matter, saying, “The president believes strongly that for the purpose of research it is inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder. He’s one of them. The simple answer is he thinks murder is wrong.”
This president’s personal view of the world has guided both his foreign and domestic policy throughout his administration. From his “axis of evil” speech in 2002 through his argument that deposing Saddam Hussein would promote peace in the Middle East to his position that Hezbollah is the “root cause” of the current conflict in Israel and Lebanon, he has been guided by a core set of beliefs. The president believes that “sometimes it requires tragic situations to help bring clarity to the international community.” He believes tumultuous change, not diplomatic dialogue, is the best path to building democracies, especially in the Middle East.
Those are his professed beliefs, but a large number of Americans don’t see them working. Recent polls show that 60 percent of Americans believe our invasion of Iraq was not worth the cost in lives and dollars. A majority believe we are less secure than before. While polls have not yet reflected the violence in Lebanon and Israel, it is unlikely it will improve those numbers.
Voters and policy analysts on the left believe Bush has not been engaged enough in diplomacy to dampen Iran’s nuclear ambitions or to prevent its support of a proxy war against Israel. Recent rumblings from the right suggest the neocons are frustrated that Bush has not been aggressive enough or engaged enough to stand down Hezbollah, Hamas or the Iranian, Syrian and Korean governments. (Sunday’s “Meet the Press” presented the spectacle of Sen. Joe BidenJoe BidenObama promotes bipartisan cures bill Democrats miss warning signs, even in blue Maryland Biden to sit down with Colbert next week MORE (D-Del.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) attacking the administration from opposite flanks.) Voters in the middle seem to be growing concerned that the personal philosophy of this president is giving us policies that don’t work internationally and they don’t want domestically.
America seems to be angry at the choices President Bush has made and the limited choices we have left. The more he sends a message that this presidency is personal, the less popular this president is likely to become.
Goddard is a founding partner of political consultants Goddard Claussen Strategic Advocacy.