The right responds to Obama's stem cell decision

Two commentators talk eugenics, and congressional Republican leaders come out to oppose the move.

Published March 9, 2009 8:35PM (EDT)

President Obama's decision to lift his predecessor's ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research wasn't about Americans' health or about science -- it was about eugenics. Just ask Glenn Beck.

"Here you have Barack Obama going in and spending the money now on embryonic stem cell research, and then some, fundamentally changing -- remember, those great progressive doctors are the ones who brought us Eugenics. It was the progressive movement and it was science," Beck said on his radio show Monday, ThinkProgress notes. He then went on to invoke the Holocaust, saying, "In case you don’t know what Eugenics led us to: the Final Solution."

Beck wasn't alone in his sentiments. At least one other prominent conservative, the National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez, joined him, alluding to eugenics in one blog post she wrote about Obama's move.

Republican leaders, at least, weren't talking eugenics, but they did come out in opposition to the president's decision.

"The administration's announcement on embryonic stem cell research represents a troubling shift in U.S. policy," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. "With this announcement, the government is, for the first time, incentivizing the creation and destruction of human embryos at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer."

McConnell's counterpart in the House, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, expressed similar sentiments, saying in a statement:

This decision runs counter to President Obama’s promise to be a president for all Americans. For a third time in his young presidency, the President has rolled back important protections for innocent life, further dividing our nation at a time when we need greater unity to tackle the challenges before us. I fully support stem cell research, but I draw the line at taxpayer-funded research that requires the destruction of human embryos, and millions of Americans feel similarly... [S]cience and respect for human life can coexist. Politicians in Washington would be well-served to recognize this fact before they ask taxpayers to subsidize the destruction of innocent human life simply to advance a particular agenda.

Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., held a press conference with a representative from the conservative Family Research Council to decry Obama's new policy. "Human-embryo-destroying stem cell research is not only unethical, unworkable and unreliable, it is now demonstrably unnecessary. Assertions that leftover embryos are better off dead so that their stem cells can be derived is dehumanizing and cheapens human life," Smith said. "There is no such thing as a leftover human life, as the snowflake children and their parents -- and the snowflake children, as you know, are cryogenically frozen embryos who were adopted -- will tell you, their lives are precious and priceless."

Of course, as ABC News' Jake Tapper documented, there really haven't been all that many "snowflake children" born, and the embryos used in this research "would likely die anyway."

I do have to say I was, at first, somewhat surprised to see the degree of Republican resistance to the new policy, given the Democrats' success at using the issue in 2006 and the broad support for loosening former President Bush's restrictions on federal funding. But it makes some sense when you think about it -- the GOP doesn't really have a political price to pay for opposing embryonic stem cell research anymore, as Obama has essentially taken the debate off the table. And for right now, people like McConnell, Boehner and Smith can score some points with the base. In one recent poll, 71 percent of those respondents who identified themselves as conservative Republicans opposed altering Bush's policy.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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Glenn Beck John Boehner R-ohio Mitch Mcconnell