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August 5, 2005 PERMALINK
George Allen: Stem Cell Flip-Flopper?
(posted Aug. 5 2 AM ET)

It has been 756 days since Karl Rove violated his obligations under Standard Form 312 without the White House taking “corrective action.”

In this week’s Sunday Talkshow Breakdown, LiberalOasis said Sen. Bill Frist’s old-yet-new position on stem cells was shared by fellow prospective ‘08er Sen. George Allen.

But LiberalOasis missed the full story on Allen, who also must defend his Senate seat in ’06.

LO was referring to Allen’s comments in July ’01 and May ’05, when he supported research on surplus embryos created in fertility clinics which would otherwise be discarded, but not on embryos created specifically for research purposes.

That’s the same phony distinction Frist also (re-)embraced last week in announcing his support for the pending stem cell funding bill, which Bush plans to veto.

But what LO didn’t realize is that despite his past comments in support of expanded stem cell research, Allen has not come out in support of the pending bill.

In fact, Allen appears to be doing everything he can to avoid taking a clear stand on the issue.

Last month, USA Today reported that Allen is backing a Bush-favored bill that would only allow funding for dubious research “alternatives” that don’t destroy embryos.

(As Chris Mooney noted back in May: “the White House is clearly disregarding mainstream scientific opinion ... mainstream opinion is clear: All types of research should be pursued, rather than elevating one type over another.”)

Does that mean he won't support the bill that Frist just threw his support to?

Allen won’t say.

According to last month’s Wall Street Journal:

Sen. Allen ducked questions about his stance in an interview, saying he won't be "pigeonholed" on whether he supports the current Senate bill.

He said he seeks a "third way" to avoid ethical dilemmas, such as scientific procedures that extract stem cells from an embryo without destroying it.

He was similarly evasive on CNN’s Inside Politics earlier this week.

But that is not a third way. It’s in all likelihood a dead end.

It’s a smokescreen from the anti-research fringe fundamentalists. And it’s in conflict with Allen’s own previously stated position.

Evasiveness and flip-flopping is becoming an Allen trademark.

As noted here in May, Allen was unable to take a clear stand on Bush’s social security privatization plan.

And he has flip-flopped on the Social Security lockbox, supporting it in 2000, mocking it in 2005.

But unlike the social security issue, he’s going to have to vote on stem cells.

Will he vote yes, and try to placate the Dobson wing by saying he tried to scale back the bill to Bush’s liking?

Or will he vote no, and have to spin away his past comments supporting expanded research?

August 4, 2005 PERMALINK
Roberts: Not Just Anti-Roe, But Anti-Privacy
(posted Aug. 4 12:45 AM ET)

It has been 755 days since Karl Rove violated his obligations under Standard Form 312 without the White House taking “corrective action.”

We already found out last week that John Roberts believes there are “judicial excesses embodied in Roe v. Wade” and that Roe is an example of “unprincipled jurisprudence.”

And now we just learned that Roberts refers to the constitutional right to privacy as the “so-called ‘right to privacy’.”

Everyone knows what one intends to convey when one adds the “so-called” moniker: that whatever follows “so-called” is bunk.

Let’s be clear about what all that means.

In the 1965 case Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court made the definitive argument that the right to privacy, which had been more narrowly established in previous cases (such as Mapp v. Ohio, which dealt with illegal searches without warrants), had a broad grounding in several facets of the Constitution.

(For the textualists out there, part of that argument included the Ninth Amendment: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”)

The Court concluded the right applied to married couples, and therefore, it struck down a law that prevented married couples from using birth control.

In the 1972 case Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Court further clarified that “[i]f the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”

That allowed unmarried couples the right to use birth control.

A year later, in Roe v. Wade, the Court noted, “[t]hat right necessarily includes the right of a woman to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”

As LiberalOasis noted over at Bush V. Choice earlier this week, Roe also was applied in the recent 5-4 Stenberg v. Carhart decision (with O’Connor in the majority), reiterating that bans on late-term abortion must include a “life or health of the mother” exception, ensuring that the woman-doctor relationship is covered by the right to privacy.

Finally, the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas majority opinion (joined by 5 justices, but not O’Connor), which ruled that what two consenting adults do in the bedroom is their business, is also rooted in the privacy rights codified in Griswold and Eisenstadt.

It is these applications of the Constitution that the fringe fundamentalists have wanted to rub out for years. Roe is just part of it.

In fact, the National Review recently dubbed Griswold “The Bad Decision That Started It All”.

Roberts comments on the right to privacy and Roe clearly show he casts his lot with this crew.

The crew that doesn’t believe in individual privacy rights.

The crew that believes people don’t have a right to use birth control, to make their own medical decisions, to have sex with who they want to, and to start a family when they want to.

The crew that believes upholding such fundamental rights of personal freedom is “judicial activism,” but when Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas block Congress from dealing with public safety issues like domestic violence and gun control, it’s somehow “judicial restraint.”

The Bushies are going to try to keep Roberts a blank slate, spin what’s released of The Roberts Files, hide the rest, and keep the public from knowing what he will do on the Court.

But the picture is becoming clearer.

In John Roberts’ America, condoms are contraband, corporations control the environment, and Will can only live with Grace.

Bring out the filibuster.

(UPDATE 8/4/05 10:20 AM ET -- ABC's The Note and The Huffington Post are headlining this LA Times scoop that Roberts did some pro bono work for gay rights activists on a 1996 discrimination case.

This new info does not change the above.

It is not unusual for corporate lawyers to do some pro bono work in order to deflect criticism (or in the case of liberal-leaning corporate lawyers, assuage guilt). It is not necessarily a window to his personal views.

Furthermore, the above analysis is not about his personal views. It's about his judicial philosophy. And his judicial philosophy says there's no right to privacy.

If that view prevails on the Court, gays will be stripped of the most basic of rights.

Finally, in the odd world of fringe fundamentalism, you can be against discrimination and against the right to privacy.

Case in point: Sen. Rick Santorum, who famously said "I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts... I have nothing, absolutely nothing against anyone who's homosexual. If that's their orientation, then I accept that...The question is, do you act upon those orientations?"

Santorum lashes out against privacy rights in his latest book.

A fundamental belief that the right to privacy is not grounded in the Constitution is far more important than one pro bono case.)

August 3, 2005 PERMALINK
The Dangers of Handicapping
(posted Aug. 3 2:15 AM ET)

It has been 754 days since Karl Rove violated his obligations under Standard Form 312 without the White House taking “corrective action.”

Last night, Paul Hackett showed that, with a principled message and decent resources, a political nobody can come out of nowhere and defy conventional wisdom.

No one would have believed you three months ago if you said a Democrat, in a district that went 64% for Dubya, would call the president a “son of a bitch” and war supporters “chickenhawks,” and then come within a hair of winning a seat in Congress.

But that’s what happened. Hackett narrowly lost to GOPer Jean Schmidt by about 3500 votes, 52%-48%.

Beltway Dems and grassroots liberals will certainly crow about the strong showing, citing professional handicapper Charlie Cook’s earlier assessment that “a Schmidt win of less than five points should be a very serious warning sign for Ohio Republicans that something is very, very wrong”.

But crowing about beating expectations is one thing. Turning today’s moral victory into tomorrow’s substantive victory is another.

And by "tomorrow," LiberalOasis means 2006, when the entire House and a third of a Senate are up for re-election.

Right now, we’re in the stage where pundits obsess about candidate recruitment and fundraising totals, in hopes of determining which races will be competitive and how many seats each party will pick up or lose.

That’s fine for pundits to guess who will win and who lose.

It’s not fine for practitioners, at least those who want to win. They should not be handicapping, they should be fighting.

But Beltway Dems are chronic handicappers. For example, in April Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid said “I think it would take a miracle” for Dems to pick up 5 seats.

That’s not clever expectations setting. That’s making advance excuses for not trying very hard.

It’s understandable why an objective observer would say Dems can’t pick up many seats. There are not a lot of obviously vulnerable incumbents or open seats in swing states.

But it is not the Dems’ job to be objective observers.

It’s not their job to whine about having a weak hand. It’s their job to play the hand they got the best they can.

So “popular” Dems chose not to run for Senate in RI and IN. So no one of supposed stature has yet declared to run in NV, OH, ME, VA, MO or AZ. So what?

Sometimes the self-financed familiar face is worth recruiting. But sometimes that guy is a bust.

Sometimes the no-name stays that way. Sometimes that guy shocks the know-it-alls, like Paul Hackett did.

This is not to say that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shouldn’t care about recruiting.

Of course they should do all they can to strengthen the Dems’ hand heading in to ’06.

But they, and we, should not conclude after they are finished recruiting that the game is already won or lost.

Because Paul Hackett reminded everyone that weak hands can still be played well.

August 1, 2005 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Aug. 1 12:45 AM ET)

It has been 752 days since Karl Rove violated his obligations under Standard Form 312 without the White House taking “corrective action.”

The shuttle Discovery and Bill Frist’s flip-flop-flip on stem cells did a better job of pushing the CIA Leak scandal off the radar than John Roberts.

Of the main shows, only NBC’s Meet The Press made mention of it, during its reporter roundtable. (Also, The Chris Matthews Show led with the scandal, and Time has a new scoop.)

Otherwise, the biggest political topic was stem cells, and Frist’s endorsement of the bill Dubya plans to veto that would allow federal funding of stem cell research using donated embryos from fertility clinics.

Frist’s new position was actually the same one he laid out back in 2001, before Bush decided to withhold federal funding for any new stem cell lines. Frist then shelved his position and backed Bush until Friday.

Frist was not on any of the Sunday shows, but all Republican Senators that were booked were asked about the move.

Reactions ran the gamut.

Potential ’08er Sen. Rick Santorum, on ABC’s This Week, criticized Frist in classic Santorum fashion:

I disagree with Senator Frist. I think that you cannot take a utilitarian approach to human life...

...You’re destroying this life for the purpose of research which has questionable value.

There’s all sorts of information out there that, you know, this is research that very well may not ever end up to be helpful...

...Bill’s a scientist, he’s a physician. You know, I know that that pulls at him a lot in his job.

And I think he made the decision that science trumped in this case.

Somehow, Santorum simultaneously believes that stem cell research is scientifically dubious, and that the principles of science dictated Frist’s position.

On CBS’ Face The Nation, anti-stem cell crusader Sen. Sam Brownback, another possible ‘08er, did not attack Frist directly, but criticized the bill Frist now supports.

And on CNN’s Late Edition, Sen. Jon Kyl acidly noted “I agree with his previous position and that of the president.”

However, Frist did get some support from GOP Senators.

It’s not surprising that pro-choice, pro-stem call Sen. Arlen Specter praised Frist on FTN.

But pro-life Sen. Mitch McConnell, the #2 Republican in Senate, had some kind words as well on Fox News Sunday:

...when Dr. Frist, who had an incredible career in medicine before turning to the Senate, speaks on a health-care issue, we all listen very carefully.

I listened to his speech. It was very thoughtful, very well-delivered. And clearly this is something that he gave a lot of attention to before announcing his position.

McConnell went on to say that he was “still studying this” and would not make a decision until the vote happens in the fall.

The varying reactions are notable. It’s a reminder that Frist is by no means alone in his party.

You may recall that last May, LiberalOasis noted that possible ‘08ers Sen. George Allen and MA Gov. Mitt Romney staked positions similar to Frist’s. So has MN Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

And that position, despite how it has been portrayed, is not the same as full support for stem cell research.

Yes, Frist and the others have now said they support using embryos that would otherwise be discarded, and that is a notch better than the Bush policy.

But they have also drawn an artificial line between that and “creating” embryos for research.

That means they do not support, and the bill pending in Congress does not support, what is (unfortunately) known as therapeutic cloning.

As Saturday’s NY Times editorial succinctly put it:

Mr. Frist had been supporting the president's policy, but he now plans to support the pending bill, with some reservations.

That is a step forward, but a pathetically small one.

The bill would not allow financing for the most promising kind of stem cell research, known as therapeutic cloning, which involves the creation of embryos genetically matched to patients with particular diseases.

The Sacramento Bee also reports that California’s stem-cell research chief is deeply troubled by this position:

Robert Klein II, chair of the state's stem-cell institute, said he feared that Frist would allow the Senate to approve restrictions that would “handicap or destroy'' stem-cell studies showing promise in treating and curing disease.

"That would be a tragedy of the highest magnitude," Klein said in a conference call with reporters.

He cited Frist's 10 principles for backing embryonic stem-cell research, the first of which calls for banning embryo creation for research.

If Frist sticks with that principle, Klein said, it could lead to a ban on therapeutic cloning or limit federal dollars to a controversial new approach touted by a Stanford University biology professor that some abortion foes have embraced.

This is a perfect example of how a position designed to be a “moderate” position can be utterly meaningless and misleading.

The punditocracy will be tempted to portray the Frist position as glorious middle ground, because it is at odds with both the conservative anti-research camp and the liberal pro-research camp.

(Case in point: The MTP roundtable gushed over Frist yesterday.)

But if the distinctions made by the “moderate” camp are made up (an embryo created for research and a surplus embryo created in a fertility clinic are both not life and will never become life) and if the benefits are non-existent (promising research is still being snuffed out), then you just have a compromise for compromise sake.

So Frist’s break from Bush is nothing to praise.

That’s the substantive analysis. What’s the political analysis?

The Senate will likely pass the bill, Bush will likely veto it, and the House will sustain the veto. (The bill has already passed the House, but short of a veto-proof margin.)

That means stem cell researach will be an unresolved issue in ’08.

With several ‘08ers on both sides of the “discarded fertility clinic embryo” line, this has the potential to divide the party during the primary, and give a leg up to folks like Brownback and Santorum.

But, as noted here in May, it may also be that the fringe fundamentalists recognize that pretty much all the candidates will oppose therapeutic cloning and continue to stifle research, and decide not to make it a litmus test issue.

QUICK HIT

Bob Woodward’s Integrity Hits Rockbottom

From yesterday’s The Chris Matthews Show:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: But they [people in the White House] saw him, Bob, as the enemy, didn’t they? In all fairness, didn’t they see him as the enemy, Joe Wilson?

BOB WOODWARD: No, they saw an opportunity. And I think there is a tendency here to ascribe much more of an organization or a conspiracy here...

...the stories going around, “Gee, it’s Joe Wilson’s wife who got him sent on this mission,” -- which she definitely had a hand in and proposed that he be the one to go see if this is true -- that’s almost too good not to pass on to a reporter.

What would it be like if Watergate was happening today?

CHRIS MATTHEWS: But isn’t it possible that Nixon himself ordered the break-in of the DNC?

BOB WOODWARD: It’s not a break-in. It’s opposition research. There’s a tendency here to treat every hardball tactic as some sort of crime. There are stories going around that the DNC front door was unlocked. If that is true, then how can you blame a guy for walking in and checking what’s in the file cabinets?

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Taking The Initiative: "This week's worst news was the passage, overwhelmingly, of an Energy Bill that makes almost every aspect of our lives worse."

Swing State Project's Bob Brigham reports from the ground in Ohio's special election

MyDD: Ask John Roberts a Question

Think Progress: McClellan Spinning Out of Control on Bolton

Ohio 2nd is calling for "boots on the ground" for congressional candidate and Iraq War vet Paul Hackett -- election is Tuesday

The Washington Note: State Department Admits that Bolton's Disclosure Was Inaccurate

Huffington Post's Arianna hears that Judy Miller, livid at Joe Wilson's 2003 op-ed, found out about Plame from her contacts and fed it to Scooter Libby. Talking Points Memo says "Not all the details are the same. But I've heard similar stuff."

The Night Light: Doonesbury banned for "turd." But Prickly City not banned for "poo."

The Left Coaster: Bush at 41%

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