Presidential Blockades of Stem-Cell Research and Security Clearance

Have you or anyone in your family been touched by Parkinson’s disease, diabetes or spinal-cord injuries?

If the answer is yes, you may be one of the 72 percent of Americans who, according to polls released by supporters, favor the very modest legislation now passed by Congress to allow somewhat greater support for embryonic stem-cell research. The legislation, that is, that President Bush vetoed.

Why would a president whose popularity ratings are at historic lows veto legislation supported by close to three-quarters of the country which does no more than allow researchers to work on stem-cell lines created from embryos that would have been destroyed anyway?

Principle, you say. ...

If you can find a principle here, good luck.

The legislation passed by the Senate this week is so limited as to almost be laughable. It doesn’t allow scientists to create new embryonic material from a patient’s own cells, which may be the most promising route to curing diseases: Such “embryos” would have no chance of ever growing into a fetus, but could provide the genetic material to help cure the person’s disease. But the Senate legislation doesn’t allow that.

All that it provides is that the embryos that are being stored in fertility clinics, which would be destroyed anyway, can instead be used for federally supported research.

Who could be against that?

Not Sen. Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader and Tennessee doctor who parted ways with this administration on stem-cell research.

Not Rep. Michael Castle of Delaware, the republican author of the House version of the bill, who even now is engaged in the hopeless task of trying to line up the required two-thirds super-majority necessary to override a presidential veto.

Certainly not the majority of Americans, including many who don’t support abortion, but are capable of seeing the difference between terminating a pregnancy and doing research on a stem-cell line derived from embryos the size of the period at the end of this sentence; embryos which cannot be preserved forever and therefore would have been destroyed anyway.

If you care about life, why not use these frozen embryos to try to save life?

Isn’t that better than simply destroying them?

Or to put it another way, isn’t that the “pro-life” choice?

So why isn’t the president making that choice? Politics. Conservative, right-wing, “I need to make my base happy and they’re not happy and I’m not strong enough to say 'No' to them” politics.

This is what happens when you’re politically weak. It doesn’t matter if you’re a candidate running for the first time or a second-term president facing your last midterm election. When you’re strong, you can speak for the whole country, reach out to the middle, go for the 60 percent or even 70 percent solution. When you’re weak, you have to retreat, secure the base first, make sure the minority of the minority who still do approve of you get what they expect from you. The strong get stronger, and the weak get weaker.

This is the sort of veto that, in shoring up the president’s support among his base of religious conservatives, is liable to cement the questions about his leadership from everyone else. As a democrat, I should be pleased. As someone with close friends who fight diseases which might be helped by stem-cell research, I cannot help but be saddened.

Speaking of weak ...

What can be said about the news that the president himself blocked security clearances for Justice Department lawyers to investigate the NSA wiretapping controversy? Mind you, this is the first time, according to documents released on Tuesday, that anyone can remember the president himself blocking security clearances for Justice Department lawyers to conduct an investigation requested by Congress.

That’s bad. Here’s worse.

The President had no objection to allowing Justice Department lawyers security clearances to investigate who leaked news of the wiretapping program to the press.

For that investigation, it was fine to give them the necessary security clearances.

The president had no objection to allowing Justice Department lawyers security clearances to defend the program against those who argued, in Congress and in court, that the wiretapping had been improperly approved and conducted.

It was only in the case of the investigation requested by Congressional democrats as to whether the Justice Department had acted properly in establishing and approving the program that the president personally intervened and, for the first time since the Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility had been established, blocked the issuance of security clearances.

Defending the President’s action, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow argued that there were other avenues for reviewing the legality of the program, and the White House didn’t want to expand the number of people exposed to the highly classified program.

But why wasn’t that a problem when it came to the leak investigation or the defense of the program, but only the investigation requested by Congressional democrats, who clearly were of the view that the other avenues did not cover the question they asked?

Even more basically, if the White House thought that the Congressional democrats’ request was gratuitous or duplicative, why not make that argument directly, rather than sneak around and deny security clearances to lawyers instead.

It certainly makes it look like you have something to hide, now doesn’t it?

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Estrich's books include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing With Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.

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