PJ O’Rourke slams Obama on stem-cell reasoning

posted at 5:26 pm on March 16, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

When Barack Obama pledged to restore federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, he probably expected unanimous praise from those suffering from life-threatening illnesses.  At least one has been left unimpressed by both the decision and the rationale Obama offered.  P.J. O’Rourke, who announced last year that he has cancer, rips Obama and his speech:

President Obama went to hell not with the stroke of a pen, but with the cluck of a tongue. His executive order was an error. His statement at the executive order signing ceremony was a mortal error: “In recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values.”

A false choice is no choice at all–Tweedledee/Tweedledum, Chevy Suburban/GMC Yukon XL, Joe Biden/Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Is there really no difference “between sound science and moral values”? Webster’s Third New International Dictionary states that science is, definition one, “possession of knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.”

After noting a few things that science “knew” over the last 3500 years, including an extremely embarrassing entry in Encyclopedia Britannica in 1911 on race, O’Rourke reflects on how moral values have held up in Western civilization:

Now let’s look at the things morality has known. The Ten Commandments are holding up pretty well. I suppose the “graven image” bit could be considered culturally insensitive. But the moralists got nine out of ten–a lot better than the scientists are doing.

O’Rourke then lets Obama have it for his specious reasoning:

[You] said that scientific progress “result from painstaking and costly research, from years of lonely trial and error, much of which never bears fruit, and from a government willing to support that work.”

Thus it was that without King George’s courtiers winding kite string for Ben Franklin and splitting firewood and flipping eye charts to advance his painstaking and costly research into electricity, stoves, and bifocals, Ben’s years of lonely trial and error never would have borne fruit. To this day we would think the bright flash in a stormy summer sky is God having an allergy attack. We would heat our homes by burning piles of pithy sayings from Poor Richard’s Almanac in the middle of the floor. And we would stare at our knitting through the bottoms of old Coke bottles.

We’d probably have telephones and light bulbs if President Rutherford B. Hayes (a Republican) had been willing to support the work of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. As you say, Mr. President, “When government fails to make these investments, opportunities are missed.” (Although the light bulbs would now have to be replaced by flickering, squiggly fluorescent devices anyway, to reverse global warming.)

This is the central conceit of Obama’s move on stem cell research.  The idea that none of the promises of research could possibly be realized without government money is, simply put, absurd.  Obama spoke of “lifting people out of wheelchairs,” but in fact, hEsc research has failed to provide any therapies at all.  Adult stem-cell research has resulted in a few dozen successful therapies, and enjoys private research support as well as public funds because the investment is better — and less morally fraught.  George Bush struck the correct balance in not blocking research, but in ensuring that federal funds would not get spent on processes that destroy human life for little practical purpose.

The Anchoress notes:

PJ O’Rourke is dealing with cancer, right now, so if he wanted to, he could defend the president’s recent executive order promoting (with his typical strawmen and ungenerously snide references to his predecessor) the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. He could wail and weep “poor me, I might need this research. I might get healed with it, and since the world is all about me, me, me, we should take this big moral jump and try! For me!”

O’ Rourke could ignore the fact that embryonic stem cell research (which did go on during the Bush years, despite the false narrative that is never corrected) has thus far yielded no effective therapies (but plenty of nightmares, despite the false narrative that is never corrected).

He could ignore the fact that if anything good was coming out of Embryonic stem cell research private capital would have been fighting all along (as they were perfectly, legally, able to do these past 8 years) to invest in the game instead of avoiding it like plague, while calling the president “heroic” (as the WH did) for “flicking his wrist” and creating a law.

He could do that, and immediately some “compassionate” sorts would jump on the opportunity to cry for him and bolster their case against lives less obvious.

But to his immense credit, O’ Rourke goes in the other direction and chooses to engage in some intellectual honesty. Brutally.

Yes, he did.  Be sure to read it all.


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