Monday, July 24, 2006

Mark Green Back-Pedals on Stem Cell Research

Lately it seems that Mark Green has been backing away from his “moral compass” line on stem cell research and focusing instead on the issue of funding.

When Green backed the president’s decision to veto the bill to sustain and enhance embryonic stem cell research, he defended his actions by saying he didn’t think taxpayers should be forced to fund the destruction of embryos.

Here’s the exact line from his press statement: “The vote today…is not about expanding stem cell research. It is about whether taxpayers should be required to fund the destruction of living human embryos. I don’t think they should.”

The word "moral" doesn't appear once in the release.

Green reiterated the funding line at a citizen forum held last week in Stevens Point. When pressed on the issue by people attending the forum, Green responded by falling back on the taxpayer argument.

“Are we going to force taxpayers to pay for it?” Green asked the crowd. "There is no ban here on private sector research."

In other words, it’s not so much the morality of the issue as it is a question of who is funding the research. Ostensibly, the argument is that there is a portion of the population that is opposed to embryonic stem cell research – so, since those people pay taxes, it would be wrong to force them to help fund something they oppose.

Of course, this argument runs down a very slippery slope since you can find a portion of the US population that opposes just about everything (just ask Kevin Barrett). If you start basing public finance on opinion polls, where does that leave you? Is, say, 10 percent opposition to something enough to stop funding it? How about 25 percent?

And what about the popular UW fertility clinic in Madison? That’s a taxpayer-funded entity that practices in vitro fertilization (IVF). Should that clinic be closed because it forces some people to help pay for a practice that leads to the destruction of living human embryos?

The more Green dodges and weaves on this issue, and subsequently backs himself into additional corners, the more it becomes clear his opposition to the research is purely political in nature. After all, Green even admitted he supports IVF at the citizen forum last week, which shows quite clearly that embryo destruction isn’t a moral issue for him.

Indeed, sticking to the far right on embryonic stem cell research would've been a risky move for Green – just as it was when he pandered to the far right by criss-crossing the state in support of the failed “Taxpayer Protection Amendment” – which explains the funding focus he’s now taking on the topic.

Continuing to oppose embryonic stem cell research on moral grounds alone would’ve forced Green to eventually state that he also opposes other widely-accepted practices like IVF. Now that Green has added the taxpayer line to this stump speech on stem cell research, he’s diversified his message enough to slip his way out of situations like the one at the citizen forum last week.

It’s likely he’ll continue to pump the “moral compass” line in front of social conservatives, while peddling the taxpayer line in front of a more general audience. All-in-all, though, I imagine what he wants most is to just avoid the topic completely.

Trying to play two sides can be a dangerous game. Social conservatives probably weren’t too happy to hear that Green backs IVF, while moderate conservatives (those in the Tommy Thompson mold) probably fear if elected Green would take even more steps to restrict embryonic stem cell research in the state.

And even if tempering his stance on stem cells doesn't explode in his face, it surely isn't the type of move that creates excitement about the Green campaign. Not rocking the boat on stem cell research is really the best Green can hope for at this point.

In the end, the stem cell issue just seems to be another case of the Green Team’s inability to unite and excite the GOP ranks in Wisconsin.

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