The first legislative veto of George Bush's six years in office sums up much that has been contemptible about the style of government of the 43rd President of the United States. The US Senate this week passed a bill, by a healthy margin of 63 to 37, to boost federal funding for stem cell research. In a press conference on Wednesday, Mr Bush told the world why he had decided to strike this down. His explanation was a model of dishonesty and ideological extremism. "This bill," he asserted, "would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others."
This is emotive nonsense. If stem cell research is really the same thing as "the taking of innocent life", as the President claims to -believe, why has he not intervened to prevent the practice taking place altogether? Why does he allow stem cell research to go on in America when it is funded by private funds? Either Mr Bush is a hypocrite, or he does not truly believe stem cell research is such a grave crime.
Let us be clear, there is nothing at all compassionate about this use of the President's veto. Striking down this legislation will have a damaging effect on the progress of medical science. Important work to find a cure for debilitating genetic diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's will be grossly impeded.
This move is also politically extreme. While the decision will delight America's Christian conservatives, it is likely to alienate the majority of the US population, who are broadly in favour of stem cell research and do not subscribe to the dogma that embryos are sacrosanct from the moment of conception. The polls show that Americans support expanded stem-cell research by a two-to-one margin. Once again, Mr Bush has made a decision to please a narrow section of the US population, rather than the nation as a whole. He has also put the US further at odds with the rest of the world, which is increasingly at ease with stem cell research.
But Mr Bush's use of his veto may yet prove a mistake. While it may give a brief boost to the President's dire approval ratings among his core support of social conservatives, there are distinct signs that his stance is beginning to alienate more moderate Republican voters. It is telling that Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, and Arlen Specter, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, both supported the bill. Some are concerned that the veto could end up hurting the Republican vote in the Congressional elections in November, especially if stem cells become a major issue. As well as being a liability to global medical science, President Bush may, it seems, have become a liability to his own party.Reuse content