Friday, September 26, 2008

Obama/McCain Sell Snake Oil in Missouri

John McCain and Barack Obama are selling “cures” this week in Kansas City and Saint Louis, but nowhere in between. No cures for Springfield!

First Senator Obama ran radio ads saying he supports “stem cell research” which is going to cure diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s. He said John McCain opposes “stem cell research” – McCain just “doesn’t understand” that millions of people need these cures.

Now McCain is running an ad saying he supports “stem cell research,” and that this has something to do with being a “maverick.” And McCain’s support for “stem cell research” is apparently even more promising than Obama’s because in addition to diabetes and cancer (he doesn’t mention Alzheimer’s, sorry) his is going to cure heart disease, spinal cord damage, knee injuries, serious burns, stroke and even the “fear and devastation” of illness.

“Stem cell research” as a political, medical or moral category is a useless term – sort of like “transportation.” If Candidate A supports a particular light rail project, it’s not uncommon in politics to hear him castigate his opponent as being against “transportation.” It’s a much scarier charge than just stating the truth, eg., “My opponent is against my $5 billion plan to run a railroad from just outside town to just outside the airport.” We all know the opponent isn’t against planes and trains and buses – just one particular boondoggle.

No one actually opposes “transportation” as such, just as no one opposes “stem cell research.” Everyone supports planes and trains and cars. A lot of people don’t support particularly ill-conceived rail projects that don’t get you where you need to go. Similarly, everybody supports the promising fields of adult and induced pluripotent stem cell research, while a lot of people don’t support the largely failed field of embryo-destructive stem cell research.

What makes this McCain-Obama ad exchange particularly strange is that they both support “stem cell research” in general AND, to the great dismay of pro-life voters, embryo-destructive stem cell research in particular.

So any way you define the term, Obama’s ad was deceitful in saying John McCain opposes “stem cell research.” John McCain’s view on stem cell research is much closer to Obama’s than it is to the Republican Party platform or the views of pro-life voters.

But McCain’s ad is similarly deceitful. By avoiding the term “embryo” and running it only in Kansas City and St. Louis, McCain is trying to have his cake and eat it too. In tying his position on stem cell research to being a “maverick,” he’s coding for people in Kansas City and St. Louis his support for embryo-destructive stem cell research.

Unlike the rest of Missouri, the citizens of those two cities largely support embryo-destructive stem cell research because they’ve been sold a bill of goods about economic development and have a generally more lax attitude to the life issues. It may seem laughable to any outside the range of the Kansas City Star or the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but many millions of dollars have been spent there on a campaign to convince those cities that Missouri could be the stem cell capitol of the world if the state would fully support embryo-destructive research.

Outside Kansas City and Saint Louis, McCain’s chances in Missouri depend on the support of pro-life voters, so he’s got no incentive reminding them of his support for embryo-destructive research.

Side-by-side looking at the life issues alone, McCain’s positions have been far more palatable to pro-life voters than his opponent’s – at least on paper. It’s no secret though, that pro-life voters have always been suspicious of John McCain’s level of commitment to the pro-life cause. That’s a very big reason he enjoyed a bump when selecting strongly pro-life Sarah Palin as running mate.

McCain’s campaign would have been better served had he been silent or retreated from his prior support of embryo-destructive research – an issue which, with the discovery of iPSC and other advancements in science, even he has admitted, is becoming a moot. The decision to reiterate his position and to make it a campaign issue is a very big mistake.