On Stem Cells Obama, Like George W. Bush, Speaks Subtly to Values Voters

In lifting President Bush's regulations on embryonic stem cell research, Obama spoke to values voters.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Like George W. Bush, President Obama is acutely attuned to the sensibilities of values voters. And like Bush, Obama's public rhetoric is laden with subtle messages to those Americans. Consider the messages to culturally conservative Americans embedded in this passage from Obama's remarks yesterday as he lifted Bush-era restrictions on federally funded embryonic stem cell research. His remarks are in italics, my analysis in regular type:

[I]n 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. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent.

Obama acknowledges the moral dimension to the stem cell debate head-on and attempts to change the traditional frame—between science and moral values—as designed by conservative Christians. He argues that we can empower the former without sacrificing the latter.

As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering.

Obama reasserts his own well-established religiosity and uses it to lay the groundwork for his own thinking on the stem cell issue.

I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research — and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.

Obama implies that the "capacity and will" to pursue embryonic stem cell research were granted to man, presumably from God (who else could the giver be?), and that such freedom is balanced by responsibility. Sounds like a theological meditation.

It is a difficult and delicate balance. Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research. I understand their concerns, and we must respect their point of view.

Even after making the moral case for federally backed embryonic stem cell research, Obama recognizes the legitimacy of the opposition's morals-based case. For years, Democrats declined to do this—to respect the moral objections of their opponents—on abortion, though party leaders like Obama have begun to do so. The stem cell speech is another example of that respect-the-morality-of-your-opponents strategy, which makes it more difficult for Republicans to demonize Democrats among religious voters.

But after much discussion, debate , and reflection, the proper course has become clear. The majority of Americans — from across the political spectrum, and of all backgrounds and beliefs — have come to a consensus that we should pursue this research. That the potential it offers is great, and with proper guidelines and strict oversight, the perils can be avoided.

That is a conclusion with which I agree.

Could the word reflection here be read as prayer? In Christian circles, it could. Obama points out that, despite the controversy around federally funded embryonic stem cell research, it's not as divisive as other hot-button social issues, like abortion. Obama is arguing that his action is far from radical and that he's on the side of most American believers.