Friday, July 29, 2005

Frist's stem-cell flip-flop

Hard to believe, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a physician himself, has abandoned Bush and embraced a bill to expand federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. He was way off on Schiavo, and he's spent much of his recent political career cozying up to the relgious right, but, finally, he's right on this one. It is imperative that there be more federal support for stem-cell research to support and complement efforts in the private sector, and Bush now finds himself alienated from both the overwhelming majority of Americans and his own party's majority leader in the Senate. (Bush may still end up vetoing the bill. It would be his first.)

Frist may yet be setting himself up for a presidential run in 2008, and this may or may not hurt his chances (conventional wisdom says it will, given how his allies on the religious right will respond, but I think it actually broadens his appeal), but he's shown some welcome independence here.

See Joe Gandelman's excellent post -- including an impressive round-up of responses in the blogosphere -- here.

Santorum's one thing. Do I now respect Frist, too?

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  • Do you respect him for taking a view similar to your own or for better representing his constituency (isn't that the point of political office anyway???) or for facing the potential backlash of the conservative right and doing it anyway or for his ability to be self-serving? As the case against stem-cell research seems primiarly one of belief (as in, do you think life begins at conception, at which point stem cell research becomes eerily unethical), I don't think this is an issue that one flip-flops on without reason.
    With the Bush adminstration on a decrescendo, looks like the rats are jumping from the ship to me.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:14 PM  

  • There are probably lots of reasons Frist did this, some self-serving, some probably more altruistic. I suspect that he really does think that stem cell research is important and perhaps he is not totally on board with the more fetishistic elements of the right-to-lifers.

    The question of whether a politician should represent his constituency or vote his own conscience has long been debated in democratic theory. There is no simple answer. As a Tennessean (although I have not lived there in a long time), I think the state is more moderate than the deeper South, so he probably has a little more leeway than he would if he were representing Alabama or Mississippi. Plus, there probably is a substantial portion of the population that does support stem cell research. And Frist did not figure to be the candidate of the hard right anyway. So this probably was not a case of Frist committing political suicide over a matter of principle. On the other hand, it would have been easy for him to just "stay the course"--I think he deserves some credit for taking a position he did not have to.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:23 AM  

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