It's hard to tell sometimes whether the debate over stem cell research is about politics, religion, ideology, or science. Many folks might believe that this is a Democratic-Republican thing because of the fight that went on in Congress and the White House. It ended with Bush issuing his second veto of federal funding for such research. It's not entirely clear, however, based on polling among the American people and votes taken in Congress that stem cell research is a Republican-Democratic thing.
What's the answer then? Are those little stem cells, who promise to give us some help in curing diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, blue or red?
BLUE! George Bush's second veto sure makes it look like a partisan issue. After all, he's the biggest, baddest Republican going. Meanwhile, the Democratic leadership in Congress fought hard for the legislation and even used it as a powerful argument for throwing the Republicans out of power during the 2006 congressional elections.
RED! Wait just a minute, you lovers of the partisan divide. Some of the Republicans who want to replace Bush in the Oval Office, notably Senator John McCain and former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani back the expansion of federal funding for such research. (A future "tax and stem" Republican in the White House, you say?)
REDDER! There were also Republicans in Congress who supported federal funding when the House voted 247-176 for passage following a Senate pro-vote of 63-34. And what about the wife of the ultimate of ultimate Republicans, Mrs. Ronald Reagan, who openly campaigns for federal funding?
NO, NO, NO. I'M GONNA HOLD MY BREATH UNTIL I TURN ... Despite some Republican support in Congress, however, a majority of the GOP's senators and congressmen voted against federal funding for research. Moreover, public polling shows that only 49% of Republicans in the U.S . support federal funding.
THE TRUTH: STEM CELLS DON'T LIKE POLITICS. Here's the reality. A vast majority of Americans -- almost 70% -- support stem cell research. This includes Democrats, Independents, and almost half of Republicans. Sixty percent favor loosening the current Bush-imposed restrictions on federal funding, something the legislation would have done if it became law. This support has been consistently high since 2001.
Where there is a separation comes from the most socially conservative Americans, Bush included, and those Republicans who oppose federal funding for most things generally. Some would argue (that would include me) that this is not a Republican or Democratic thing, but an ideological, even anti-science, approach to public policy. Nonetheless, the political realities will make the fight appear more partisan than it really is. The Democrats will continue to use opposition among very conservative Republicans for electoral advantages by attempting to paint the entire GOP with a backwoods brush, and the Republicans will try to rally their most loyal base voters with vetoes and congressional votes.
At the end of the day, though, most Americans are not really that divided over federal funding for stem cell research. They support it. This means those stem cells free to cast their ballots for the best man, woman, or embryo ... no matter what political party he or she comes from.