Sunday, August 12, 2001

Stem-cell funds

Mr. Bush earns his usual C

        Our president is a C student.

        This is no secret. He brags about it.

        “To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say, "Well done,'” Mr. Bush told graduating students at Yale University in May. “And to the C students, I say, "You, too, can be president of the United States.'”

        You want a brainy commander in chief? Tune in West Wing, where faux president Josiah Bartlet is a Nobel laureate. Our real president never claimed to be a scholar, Rhodes or otherwise. His predecessor, of course, was a brilliant student who earned an F in deportment.        

Bubba or the Lip?

        George W. Bush was not valedictorian of his tony prep school or his Ivy League alma mater. He was a cheerleader, nicknamed “Lip” for his fast mouth and ready wit.

        So who are you gonna listen to when you are in the middle of a moral dilemma? Bubba or the Lip?

        Since 1996, federal law has banned the use of tax dollars for research that destroys or harms embryos. The Clinton administration decided in 1999 to allow federal money to pay for stem-cell projects so long as privately funded researchers extracted the cells.

        A nice distinction.

        Mr. Bush has another.

        During the presidential campaign, he said, “Taxpayer funds should not underwrite research that involves the destruction of live human embryos.”

        Thursday night, he told the nation, “I have concluded that we should allow federal funds to be used for research on these existing stem cell lines, where the life-and-death decision has already been made.”

        He said he studied the matter for several months. And, as he told columnist Georgie Anne Geyer when she asked him about foreign policy early in his bid for the presidency, “to be truthful, I don't know much about it. But I'm a quick study.”

        He has certainly had a lot of access to briefing books, the executive equivalent to Cliffs Notes. And that should not be interpreted as a remark about Mr. Bush's intellect. Just his methods.

        Your pedigree might help get you into Phillips Academy and Yale, but it doesn't guarantee a diploma. “He went to very good schools,” his mother reminded a Cincinnati audience when she was here in April of last year. Barbara Bush told the crowd at the Aronoff Center that she just gets “so mad when people say he's not smart.”        

Grief bona fides

        A good boy, she added, who took the death of his sister very hard. Robin Bush died in 1953 at the age of 3 of leukemia, one of those diseases that might be conquered through stem-cell research.

        Unlike Al Gore, who never met a relative he couldn't use to make a point — his sister's lung cancer, Albert Jr.'s near-fatal accident, Tipper's lips, his mother-in-law's prescription drugs — the president did not trot out his grief bona fides when he made his speech Thursday night to the nation. He deserves high marks for deportment. And his customary C for the course.

        He listened to lectures from ethicists and scientists and, most publicly, the pope. He could have stuck to his campaign rhetoric. He might have chosen to please his most conservative supporters. Instead, he gave a cautious thumbs up to scientists and research advocates.

        Depending on your point of view, the glass is half full or half empty. But there was something for everyone. Not brilliant. Not a failure.

        Just a passing grade.

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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