Christianists gone wild

Is the GOP trying to ban private funding of embryonic stem cell research? Some Republicans certainly seem to think so.

Published August 28, 2008 8:49PM (EDT)

One-time Bush propagandist turned Obama-supporter Andrew Sullivan is in high dudgeon at reports that the new Republican Party platform will ban all public and private funding of embryonic stem cell research. The news comes from Stephen Spruiell, a contributor to the National Review's group blog the Corner, who offered an eyewitness description of back-and forth over an amendment to the existing platform earlier this week, and concluded, with an air of what Sullivan likes to call "Christianist" triumphalism, that:

"The 2008 Republican Platform calls for a ban on all embryonic stem-cell research, public or private."

Lefty bloggers have been quick to pounce on the news, as well they should, since, if true, it represent a remarkable extension of Republican big-government interference in the domain of science and medicine in the United States. Hillary supporters still looking longingly at John McCain should take note -- this is what today's GOP is all about, McCain's protestations otherwise notwithstanding.

I'm a little bit confused, however. I can't find a copy of the final draft of the 2008 Republican Platform online, but in another post to the Corner, Spruiell provided what he says is the full text of the stem cell plank (italics are mine):

Taxpayer-funded medical research must be based on sound science, with a focus on both prevention and treatment, and in accordance with the humane ethics of the Hippocratic Oath. In that regard, we call for a major expansion of support for the stem-cell research that now shows amazing promise and offers the greatest hope for scores of diseases -- with adult stem cells, umbilical cord blood, and cells reprogrammed into pluripotent stem cells -- without the unethical destruction of embryonic human life. We call for a ban on human cloning and a ban on the creation of or experimentation on human embryos for research purposes.

Do you see any reference to private funding in that paragraph? I don't, unless you take the last sentence to be an all-inclusive ban that is not connected in any way to the original reference to "taxpayer-funded medical research." And as far as I can tell, the back-and- forth that occurred between Republican delegates who were debating changes in the language of that plank focused on only one word in the last sentence, which originally called for "a ban on the creation of and experimentation on human embryos." That and has now been changed to or. The significance of that change, I guess, is that it extends the proposed ban to experimentation on embryos that already exist, such as those currently frozen in IVF clinics.

Maybe I'm making too much of an obscure point, although it would be ironic if the lefty blogosphere was accidentally propagating a mistaken interpretation of the Republican Party platform perpetrated by Republican Party zealots. Because whatever the truth is about the platform as it stands now, there is little doubt that the religious right wing of the GOP desperately wants to be able to tell everyone in the United States what they can or cannot do, according to the precepts of their own theology, whether they are publicly or privately-funded. I just wonder why the Republicans just don't come clean, à la Ann Coulter, in the platform, and call for the forcible conversion to Christianity of all American unbelievers. It would simplify politics in the country greatly.

Of course, we have, in the United States, no monopoly on fundamentalist idiocy, although it certainly seems like most other advanced countries are doing a better job of drawing lines between science and religion. But to return once again to one of my favorite examples, India, I ran into a strange bit of synchronicity this morning while reading a decent summary of the archaeological and scientific evidence as to whether an underwater rock formation between southern India and Sri Lanka is actually the remains of a bridge built by Lord Rama in the ancient, ancient past.

(If you are unfamiliar with the details of this fight between fundamentalist Hindu politicians and supporters of a dredging project to widen navigable shipping lanes in the region, I refer readers to my posts from last year, "Don't Mess With Lord Rama (Or His Bridge)" and "Bring Me the Head of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.")

Suraj Bhan closes his review of the evidence, "Ram Setu: Separating a Myth from Reality," with the following paragraphs -- (italics mine):

The literary, archaeological and geological investigations have demonstrated beyond doubt that the Ram Setu or Adam's Bridge is not a man made structure. Propaganda being indulged in by the right wing political parties and their ideologues is totally unscientific.

Scientific knowledge is essential to understand the historical context. It helps people to organize to build a knowledge-based society and to look forward to create a genuine democratic political and social culture ensuring equity and justice.

You would almost think Mr. Bhan was addressing the Republican Party Platform Committee directly, and not his own country's batch of power-hungry sectarian evangelicals.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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