California’s Stem Cell Ballot Proposal and Bush vs. Big Government

My local paper, the Kalamazoo Gazette, screwed up big time on a minor detail related to a California ballot proposal that would require taxpayers there to fund embryonic stem cell research. So, I fired off a letter,

Today’s lead editorial assessing California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance in office highlights his differences with the national Republican Party, including “his recent endorsement of a $3 million bond issue that would fund human embryonic stem cell research.” The only problem with that statement is that the proposed bond issue is actually $3 billion, and will wind up costing California taxpayers an estimated $6 billion over 30 years according to a report by the state’s legislative analyst.

The real shame is that in their zeal to show their support for embryonic stem cell research, those opposed to the current partial ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research have ridiculously oversold the near-term potential for the technology. This was typified by Democratic Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards’ exploitation of the death of actor Christopher Reeve. Edwards bizarrely promised a crowd that, “When John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.” In the Proposition 71 campaign in California, proponents of the ballot initiative have taken to claiming that breakthroughs from stem cell research will save more in health care costs than Proposition 71 will ultimately cost. Such claims would be appropriate for a group like Psychics for Stem Cell Research, but for those not fortunate enough to have psychic powers, if and when embryonic stem cell research might yield breakthroughs is simply emotion-driven speculation.

The one thing that proponents of embryonic stem cell research seem to have learned from their opponents is that demagoguery and emotional manipulation beats a rational analysis of the various options for federal research funding any day of the week. Unfortunately, this sort of appeal to emotion tends to be the rule, rather than the exception, in how state and federal funding for basic research is allocated.

Proposition 71, of course, is a reaction to Bush’s partial ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The problem with Bush, as Radley Balko hints at, is that embryonic stem cell research seems to be the only increase in government spending that he is not in favor of. It’s still so strange so see Bush saying that he believes in trusting the people rather than government when Republicans have been responsible for the biggest increase in the size of government in my lifetime.

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