Friday, July 21, 2006

The Immoral Veto

Huffington Post
Terry Curtis Fox
The Immoral Veto

Bush’s veto of the Stem Cell Research bill is being cast as a classic conflict between science and religion, with the hope that the clear medical benefits will make this a potent campaign issue.

It’s the right issue, but the wrong approach.

Once again, the Republican right has cast their actions in a moral light, and when posed as a conflict between morality and science, science nearly always loses, even when science is in the public’s best interest.

Going back to the revolution, the American left has won when it has cast its arguments in moral terms. Looks at the Declaration of Independence for starters, move on to abolition, the enfranchisement of women, Roosevelt’s “four freedoms” and the ensuing New Deal, the civil rights movement, and then to the early success of feminism and recent acceptance of at least some gay rights. All were expressed in specifically moral language.

Geoffrey Stone correctly points out that while the American Communist Party was never an electoral power, Eugene V. Debs’ Socialists were once a force with which to be reckoned. I would add that socialists nearly always expressed their philosophy in moral terms, while Communism billed itself as “scientific socialism.” I don’t think that it’s an accident that the moral approach was more persuasive in this country.

When scientific ideas are coupled with a moral imperative, they gain widespread acceptance. Thus the broad-based support for environmentalism: when we talk about the responsibility of caring for the planet and preserving it for future generations, we gain adherents across the political spectrum.

This may explain, at least in part, why Americans are so reluctant to embrace evolution. There’s no question about the science: forget the fossil record, sequencing DNA makes the theory irrefutable. However, evolution is by its nature amoral: it describes a process which has a single, implacable, uncaring imperative. Even worse, it was used to support “Social Darwinism” which was fundamentally immoral. The opponents of evolution have no scientific ground on which to stand, but that’s nearly irrelevant. The truth is not the question. The question is whether evolution itself is a challenge to the opponents’ morality. Those who do not find it incompatible accept the science; those who do, ignore the evidence.

What’s particularly galling about the Democrats’ response to the stem cell veto is that support for the bill can so easily be expressed in moral terms.

It is immoral to allow your sectarian beliefs to stop research which can save lives.

It is immoral to impose your religion on non-believers. In fact, this is a sin.

It weakens the country to send life-saving research overseas.

It is a moral imperative to pursue research which can save lives and does no harm.

When Bush vetoed the bill, he was not making a difficult choice. He was not reasonable. He was not worthy of respect even by those who disagree. He was morally wrong. The veto was immoral.

We have the arguments. Why are we afraid to use the language which will make them win?