by Walter Brasch
George W. Bush says he believes in up-or-down votes. He proclaimed it shortly after his first inaugural, and included that belief in his 2005 State of the Union address, when he demanded that “every judicial nominee deserves an up-or-down vote.”
A one-vote majority, says the President, should decide nominations and issues. He constantly talked about up-or-down votes in the Senate for the nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the U.N., for bills to ban gay marriages, to make it illegal to burn the flag, and almost every bill his administration proposed. His words were echoed by the Congressional leadership and by the evangelical fundamental Christian base.
He disagrees with Senate rules, which require 60 votes to override a filibuster. The reason President Bush believes in the “up-or-down” theory of governance is because for most of his Administration he has had a Republican Congress willing to do whatever it takes to advance a neoconservative political and social agenda.
Since President Bush believes in one-vote majorities, it shouldn’t have been a problem for him to accept a 238–194 vote in the House and a 63–37 vote in the Senate to allow medical researchers to use stem cells from embryos, with their donors’ consent, that would have been discarded by fertility clinics. About 400,000 frozen embryos are in clinics; a few will be “adopted” by mothers who have them implanted in their uteruses; most embryos will be thrown away.
Embryonic stem cells are the basic building blocks of life, cells that will develop into any cell in the body, and are the key to learning more about life itself. Stem cell research could lead to cures for Parkinson’s Disease, diabetes, numerous cancers, spinal cord injuries, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. Nancy Reagan, whose husband’s last years were spent in the fog of Alzheimer’s, is a strong proponent of stem cell research.
Almost seven months after his first inauguration, President Bush declared that the federal government would fund research only on stem cell lines that had already been developed, and not for any new ones. He equated the medical use of stem cells with murder, and threatened to veto any new legislation to expand stem cell research. His veto threats had worked on 141 other bills over a five and a half year period, as the Republican-controlled Congress meekly revised bills or eliminated them.
This time, Congress—faced by the political reality that about 70 percent of Americans supported expanded stem cell research—didn’t buckle. Fifty House Republicans broke from the White House legislative controls; in the Senate, nineteen Republicans and all but one Democrat voted for the bill. The President renewed his veto threat.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.) had asked the President, ”not to make the first veto of your presidency one that turns America backward on the party of scientific progress and limits the promise of medical miracles for generations to come.” Bill Frist—heart surgeon, Senate majority leader, and one of the most active voices in pushing the Bush–Cheney agenda—also opposed the veto. “Given the potential of this research and the limitations of the existing lines eligible for federally funded research, I think additional lines should be made available,” Dr. Frist said.
But the president did veto the bill, and neither the House nor the Senate had the two-thirds majority necessary to override the veto. The President’s veto, said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is a “shameful display of cruelty, hypocrisy, and ignorance.” Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) said he thought the President was “captured by his own ideology and taking his ideology to an extreme.” Research, said Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) “will now continue in the private sector with insufficient funding and a lack of government oversight, all while millions of people wait for cures to devastating diseases.
President Bush said in April 2002, “We have a moral imperative to protect the sanctity of life,” and continued to throw “sanctity of life” in almost every speech or comment about stem cell research. At the time he explained his veto, he declared the bill—approved by significantly more than an “up-or-down” vote—“crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect.”
If the President honestly believed in a “moral boundary” and the “sanctity of life,” he would not have exploited a couple of dozen “snowflake babies”—children born from implanted embryos—by using them as props in the East Room when he explained why he vetoed the bill.
If George W. Bush understood moral boundaries and the sanctity of life, he would not have lied about the non-existent ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda or the weapons of mass destruction he claimed were in Iraq in order to launch an invasion that has cost more than 2,500 American lives and caused injuries, many life-threatening, to another 18,000, in addition to 50,000–70,000 civilian deaths. He would not have decided that the Geneva Accords didn’t apply to thousands of prisoners that his Administration confined in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and other prisons. If he had any kind of a “moral compass,” he would have allowed prisoners to have due process, to be treated humanely, and not be subjected to “renditions,” the transfer to secret prisons in countries that use torture.
If this former non-combatant National Guard officer had any concern for humanity, he would not have ordered severe cuts in combat pay and family benefits for active duty military, proposed a $1.3 billion cut in veterans’ benefits, and an increase in health care costs, while also pushing for massive tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent of Americans.
If he believed in a moral administration, he would not have allowed Halliburton, the financial empire once run by Dick Cheney, to continue to get several multi-million dollar no-bid contracts in New Orleans and Iraq after being exposed for price gouging and fraudulent business practices.
If George W. Bush understood the meaning of the “sanctity of life,” he would not have spent several minutes at a photo-op in Florida where he read “My Pet Goat” to children after being notified that the first plane had hit the Twin Towers. He would not have been embarrassingly slow and seemingly unconcerned to respond following the Sumatra–Andaman earthquake/tsunami in Southeast Asia or after Hurricane Katrina hit America’s Gulf Coast.
He would not have disregarded the ubiquitous warnings from the scientific community about global warming and the multitudinous pleas to preserve and defend the environment and all of its life. He would not have diverted funds for disaster relief, and cut back on health and welfare needs. He would not have placed political cronies into senior administrative positions in the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and then cut that agency’s funding for disaster response.
If he believed in “morals,” he would have cut all ties with his good buddy, “Kenny Boy” Lay, whose company cheated thousands of employees out of their pensions, while the executives were living in luxury.
If the President of the United States was concerned about “morals” and the “sanctity of life,” he would have condemned hunting and the gun lobby that was one of the primary contributors to his political campaigns. He would have condemned the spurious and vicious attacks upon Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2000 primary contest, and the Swift Boat attacks upon Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 general election.
There is a lot that George W. Bush, who campaigned on promises to bring morality to the White House, could do to prove he is a moral leader, one who believes in the sanctity of life. But, his record, not his rhetoric, shows otherwise.
[Walter Brasch’s current books are America’s Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government’s Violation of Constitutional and Civil Rights and ‘Unacceptable’: The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina. Both are available through amazon.com and other on-line sources. You may contact Dr. Brasch at firstname.lastname@example.org]