When John F. Kennedy stood for the Presidency the big issue that dominated the primary was whether he, a Roman Catholic, would be controlled by the Vatican. The truth was that while JFK had a very devout mother (whose faith sustained her in multiple tragedies to come); his public work never embodied any kind of religious agenda. He was a strict Separationist. Much attention has been given to George W. Bush's appearance on Meet the Press this past Sunday. It was disconcerting to watch the notoriously tough Tim Russert playing lap dog and annoyingly letting the President get away with repeatedly connecting those illusive dots between Iraq and 9/11, dots as real as the WMD's. No wonder so many Americans make that erroneous leap. I for one was far more interested in the 60 Minutes segment that aired that evening on Evangelicals and their influence on the leadership of both the current executive and legislative branches of government.
How things have changed. If JFK had said, as did Bush during a 2000 campaign debate, that Christ was his most influential political philosopher it would have destroyed his candidacy on the spot. Gary Bower, one of the Golden boys of the religious right, intimated that the GOP equated with piety in pointing out that 80% of active church goers vote Republican. I don't mean to disparage others he added. Right. JFK had no religious agenda, but George Bush does and makes no bones about it. It's not that he is moved by his religion, but that he thinks his religion should move us.
Bush's crossing the Separation barrier ran through his recent State of the Union, but nowhere is it more evident than in his systematic undermining of potentially life saving stem cell research. And it was only four days after 60 Minutes aired that we received the news of the breakthrough achieved by South Korean scientists, unencumbered by restrictive rules promulgated by the President. Perhaps there are ethical issues surrounding cloning, particularly its potential use in reproduction, but in a country that is supposedly agnostic with regard to particular religious points of view, it's a debate that belongs somewhere else. On the most fundamental level, if someone is opposed to stem cell research on religious grounds, no one is forcing them to use the therapeutics that may emanate from it. No one forces a woman to have an abortion. If you don't approve what's being shown on TV, you can always change the channel or turn it off altogether.
Standing in the way of this important new area of discovery is impinging on my rights as a citizen and my freedom of religion or, for some people, freedom from religion. I'm not saying George Bush shouldn't feel personally opposed to this research, shouldn't abstain from its benefits, only that he shouldn't make a private belief, no matter how heartfelt, into public policy. And there is one more thing. Many of us feel that the foreign policy of this government has weakened our position in the world community with broad implications for our future. The fact that Koreans made this breakthrough speaks to the potential erosion in our scientific power as well. Make no mistake about it, a decline in scientific leadership can ultimately impact not only on our national health but our national security as well. Wasn't security "Job 1" for Bush and company? I guess not.