Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Third Rail: Stem Cells and Social Security

Bush Would Veto House Bill On Stem Cells - New York Times

When it comes to stem cell research conservative politicians can't win. Most Americans, including religious conservatives, have little sympathy for embryos and much as their leaders hint that at a nightmarish future in which soulless zombies are cloned for spare parts, they are not impressed.

Spokesmen for the Religious Right have to take a conservative line on stem cell research to appear consistent, cover their tracks and maintain their alliance with conservative Catholics. Their constituents however are not on board.

The Catholic Church has a coherent if not entirely plausible position on these matters teased out of subtle Thomistic doctrines and a long tradition of casuistry--and its position on stem cell research is part of a "seamless garment" which includes opposition the death penalty and a body of teachings on social justice that makes conservatives gag. When Catholics talk about the "Culture of Life" they mean it.

Most conservative Protestants, "values voters" and their right-wing camp followers do not. They have no interest in the rights of fetuses, much less stem cells: they want restrictions on the availability of abortion because they want to deter people, particularly young girls, from having sex--or at the very least to discourage casual, recreational sex. But the conservative leadership doesn't dare admit it so they're obliged to cover their tracks by claiming a commitment to the Culture of Life and taking on commitments to unpopular views on euthanasia and stem cell research.

Stem cell research forces conservatives hand in much the way that Social Security does. Very few Americans have any serious interest in an "ownership society" or believe that the government should cut public services and income transfers as such. They just want to see to it that benefits do not go to the undeserving poor--particularly the non-white undeserving poor. They firmly believe that the respectable elderly should live well.

No conservative politician dares to articulate the de facto conservative creed and very few of their followers can admit it, even to themselves. Who wants to confess: "We believe that people should have less sex. We believe that the government should support parents' efforts to control their adolescent children and, in particular, see to it that there are penalties for sexual activity. We believe that people should live in the style to which they're accustomed, that actors, pop musicians and athletes should be fabulously wealthy so that we can admire their excess, that the poor here and abroad should work hard and live meager lives because they're used to it, and that the respectable middle-class should own their own homes with the full complement of motor vehicles and household appliances. We look for the life of the world to come, where all adults are straight and married with children, where men do men's work and women do women's work, where everyone plays their designated role and everything looks right. Amen."


brugini said...

It is strange that eliciting the conservative view in its specific terms makes it sound silly, absurd and cruel, but it does. Is it any wonder it is not revealed by politicians!

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