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August 31, 2005

Respect for Conscience

Kevin E. Dayhoff

U. S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R., TN) is currently the target of an advertising campaign in Iowa criticizing him for voting his conscience and backing expanded embryonic stem cell research.

If you will recall Senator Frist, took to the Senate floor and delivered a thoughtful statement detailing his support for legislation to remove some of the Bush administration's limitations on embryonic stem cell research.

This angered many social conservatives.

Senator Frist is a heart-lung transplant surgeon who opposes abortion. He has been widely suggested as a presidential candidate in 2008.

A bill to ease stem cell restrictions passed the House of Representatives in May and Senate approval is expected after Labor Day even in the face of President Bush's veto threat.

The president's reaction: "You've got to vote your conscience." Many who desperately want a civil, reasoned and intelligent debate on important issues in our lives have applauded the president's reaction and have respected Senator Frist's differing views.

The Associated Press reports that President Bush and Senator Frist "appeared together at the White House shortly after Frist's speech. [The President] introduced him as "Doctor Bill Frist" and afterward Bush shook Frist's hand and said something that made the majority leader laugh. As Bush was leaving the room, he summoned Frist to join him."

Columnist George Will said it best: "The minor disagreement between Bush and Frist. [supports] that people in public life often do what they do because they think it is right. Both Bush and Frist have thought seriously about this subject and come to mildly divergent conclusions. But neither conclusion crosses the scarlet line of supporting the creation of embryos to be mere sources of cells. And neither conclusion is the result of the sort of slapdash thinking that exaggerates the differences between them and explains those differences in terms of banal political calculations."

Leaders of our nation, just as respected and conscience-driven as Senator Frist, such as Sen. Thomas Coburn (R., OK), an obstetrician, and our own our Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R., MD) disagree with Senator Frist.

Fortunately, an alternative has recently surfaced.

On August 23, the Associated Press reported that "Harvard scientists announced they've discovered a. promising and dramatic breakthrough that could lead to the creation of useful stem cells without first having to create and destroy human embryos."

Congressman Bartlett wrote in the Carroll County Times on August 20, that he has pursued alternative approaches to embryonic stem-cell research that do not create or harm human embryos.

That effort culminated with the introduction of HR-3144, entitled the "Respect for Life Pluripotent Stem Cell Act of 2005." Senator Coburn has introduced an identical bill, S-1557. "Instead of dividing our nation and our state over this issue, the bills would bridge the gap between the ethical and scientific dilemmas other stem-cell legislation presents. HR 3144 was drafted with assistance from the administration. HR-3144/S-1557 is a bill that Bush would sign into law."

As for the $50,000 ad campaign in Iowa, Associated Press writer Mike Glover quoted Gary Cass, head of the Florida-based Center for Reclaiming America: "We know Iowa is a way to get everybody's attention. Our hope is Senator Frist will hear from Iowans. Iowa is a critical state in the presidential nominating process and Frist is considered a potential candidate for the Republican nomination in 2008."

Folks, whether you agree or disagree with Mr. Cass, this ad campaign is not helpful. With conservatives like this, who needs an opposition party? This is an ad campaign to which Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., NY) would consider contributing.

What is helpful are bills like HR-3144 and S-1557. How about a $50,000 ad campaign supporting "bills [that] would bridge the gap between the ethical and scientific dilemmas other stem-cell legislation presents?"

One is certainly not suggesting that conscience-driven debate and discussion over the sanctity of life isn't appropriate, if not required of responsible leaders on the national stage.

But attempting to interfere with Senator Frist's presidential chances over the senator acting on his conscience and principles is nuts. Are we to forget the other 99% of the issues for which Senator Frist has worked so hard for the conservative cause? Isn't it appropriate to respect Senator Frist for voting his conscience? Should we not celebrate an elected official voting his conscience instead of political expediency?

Running the ads in Iowa is reminiscent of the "barnburners." Perhaps a lesson from the past is appropriate, so that the Republican Party can learn from the mistakes of the Democratic Party.

The barnburners, according to Columbia Encyclopedia, were a radical element of the Democratic Party in New York State from 1842 to 1848. The name came from "the fabled Dutchman who burned his barn to rid it of rats."

When the barnburners were refused recognition at the Democratic National Convention of 1848, they nominated Martin Van Buren for president. Largely because of this Democratic split, the Whig candidate, Zachary Taylor, defeated the regular Democrat, Lewis Cass.

Senator Clinton is moderating to the middle at warp speed, pre-positioning herself for 2008. No doubt, out of her conscience.

In spite of the fact that under the Clinton Administration, federal law said that no funds could be used for any research involving the destruction of a human embryo, please prepare for: "with Hillary Clinton as president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to get up out of that wheelchair and walk again."

Unless you want to start remembering, whether President Hillary Clinton spells her first name with one "l" or two, disagree with Senator Frist on one particular issue all you like, but let's keep in mind the big picture.

To maintain our leadership role in this nation, citizens want leaders to continue to negotiate for solutions, build consensus, promote scientific endeavor and further the conservative cause of reigning in big government, supporting family values and individual responsibility, all the while, preserving and respecting the sanctity of life and voting our collective conscience.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. I-mail him at:

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