Columns » John Brummett

Reagan puts Bush on the fringe

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Bill Clinton was pretty good, but conceivably the most effective speech at the Democratic National Convention last week was delivered by Ronald Reagan. Actually, that's Ron Reagan, son of the late president and Nancy. He did the Democrats the great favor of gracing their convention podium to call attention to a vivid example of the Bush administration's polarizing Religious Right extremism. What he did was introduce an issue of compassion and practicality for the consideration of those who somehow may still be undecided between George W. Bush and John Kerry, unpersuaded how to vote by the war and economic policy. Winning over the remaining undecideds over the next hundred days will be mostly a negative proposition. One or the other of the candidates will most likely be placed outside the mainstream, thus unable to achieve a comfort level with the American voters. Republicans have so stigmatized a few Democratic presidential candidates along the way, and they're hard at work trying to Dukakisize John Kerry. But when none other than Ronald Reagan's own son pleads for saving lives and puts Bush in the odd opposition to that, he threatens to send a message to those undecideds that there's something about the incumbent, actually, that's quite outside the mainstream. What Reagan did in his brief speech was plead for a resumption of federal funding for new stem cell research that might lead to cures for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes and assorted other fatal afflictions. He dismissed as the "theology of the few" the opposition to the research. That would be much if not all of the pro-life movement, to which the current president found it politically advisable to pander. This opposition holds the bizarre view that extracting stem cells from days-old human embryos, the common practice of this phase of research, amounts to the taking of a human life - an abortion, if you will. Bush, placating his extreme base, has curbed research spending except on stem cell lines created before Aug. 9, 2001. The young Reagan told the Democratic delegates that he was not making a partisan appeal. But I'm not sure what else you could call this concluding phrase of his speech, except the brutal truth: "In a few months we will face a choice. Yes, between two candidates and two parties, but more than that. We have a chance to take a giant stride forward for the good of all humanity. We can choose between the future and the past, between reason and ignorance, between true compassion and mere ideology. Whatever else you do come Nov. 2, I urge you, please, cast a vote for embryonic stem cell research." That's a vote for Kerry unless George W. experiences some kind of epiphany and decides to alienate his base. How out of the mainstream is the Bush position? It's entirely too conservative not only for Ron Reagan, but for his mom, Nancy. She recently attended a fund-raising dinner for stem cell research and said time was wasting because lives were being lost. And in April, 58 senators sent a letter to Bush urging a resumption of funding, and among the 58 were 14 Republicans, including several who are opposed to abortion. Be aware, too, that this hopeful research continues unabated in Europe. It's going to take place and it most likely will lead to dramatic advancements in fighting certain fatal diseases. The only question is whether America will lend its considerable might and expertise to this fight for humanity. Both Nancy Reagan and her son think America must engage. And now the son has gone on record pretty much telling the country that only the Democratic presidential candidate will provide that engagement. If we don't hear much more about this, a Democratic consultant surely will have dropped a ball.

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