The Magazine

Stem Cell Sham

The president as sophist.

Mar 23, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 26 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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When a Democratic president goes from being wrong to being damn wrong is always an interesting moment: Bay of Pigs, Great Society, Jimmy Carter waking up on the morning after his inauguration, HillaryCare. Barack Obama condemned himself (and a number of human embryos to be determined at a later date) on March 9 when he signed an executive order reversing the Bush administration's restrictions on federal funding of stem cell research.

President Obama went to hell not with the stroke of a pen, but with the cluck of a tongue. His executive order was an error. His statement at the executive order signing ceremony was a mortal error: "In recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values."

A false choice is no choice at all--Tweedledee/Tweedledum, Chevy Suburban/GMC Yukon XL, Joe Biden/Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Is there really no difference "between sound science and moral values"? Webster's Third New International Dictionary states that science is, definition one, "possession of knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding."

Let's look at the various things science has "known" in the past 3,000 years.

Lightning is the sneeze of Thor.

The periodic table consists of Earth, Wind, and Fire and a recording of "Got To Get You into My Life."

The world is flat with signs saying "Here Be Democrats" near the edges.

You can turn lead into gold without first selling your Citibank stock at a huge loss.

We're the center of the universe and the Sun revolves around us (and shines out of Uranus, Mr. President, if I may be allowed a moment of utter sophomoricism).

But, lest anyone think I'm not serious, let me quote with serious revulsion the following passages from the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1911)--that great compendium of all the knowledge science possessed, carefully distinguished from ignorance and misunderstanding, as of a hundred years ago:

[T]he negro would appear to stand on a lower evolutionary plane than the white man, and to be more closely related to the highest anthropoids.

Mentally the negro is inferior to the white.

[A]fter puberty sexual matters take the first place in the negro's life and thought.

The above are quoted--not out of context--from the article titled "Negro" written by Dr. Walter Francis Willcox, chief statistician of the U.S. Census Bureau and professor of social science and statistics at Cornell. I trust I've made my point.

Now let's look at the things morality has known. The Ten Commandments are holding up pretty well. I suppose the "graven image" bit could be considered culturally insensitive. But the moralists got nine out of ten--a lot better than the scientists are doing. (And, to digress, the Obama administration should take an extra look at the tenth commandment, "Thou shalt not covet," before going into nonkosher pork production with redistributive tax and spend policies.)

A false choice means there's no choosing. The president of the United States tells us that sound science and moral values are united, in bed together. As many a coed has been assured, "Let's just get naked under the covers, we don't have to make love." Or, as the president puts it, "Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose this research. And I understand their concerns, and I believe that we must respect their point of view."

Mr. President, sir, if this is your respect, I'd rather have your contempt or your waistline or something other than what you're giving me here. The more so because in the next sentence you say,

But after much discussion, debate and reflection, the proper course has become clear. The majority of Americans--from across the political spectrum, and of all backgrounds and beliefs--have come to a consensus that we should pursue this research.