On Presidents, Stem Cells and the Man Behind Citizens United

Stem cells can and should be above politics.
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We Democrats are proud of our ex-presidents. Republicans? Not so much.

Compare the treatment of Bill Clinton, who will be greeted with an earth-shaking ovation and a featured speaking spot at the Democratic Convention with that of George Bush, who will not even be attending the Republican Convention -- although held in his brother's home state.

Republicans forget the huge favors Mr. Bush did for rich folks like the Romneys and the Ryans, reducing taxes on the affluent, although doing so traded a Clinton-balanced budget for a Bush deficit. Today's Republican leaders want to cut taxes on the wealthy again. Since President Bush did exactly that before, you would think they would be eager to discuss his record.

But they do not seem anxious to bring up Mr. Bush. Candidate Romney seems barely able to pronounce his name, referring to him as "My Republican predecessor." Is that all the courtesy he can muster -- for a two-term President of the United States?

Question: Aside from Mr. Bush, what individual has done more than anyone else to accelerate Republican dominance?

No, not Michael Turzai, who said voter ID "is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania." Although that state's Republican House majority leader may be correct. Republican-passed voter suppression laws may deny the vote to literally millions of Democrats: minorities, the poor, the elderly, the disabled, college students -- those may not have documentation and fees for the new Voter ID laws.

But a still greater assist to Republican power was wrought by a man you may not know: conservative attorney James Bopp, Jr.

Mr. Bopp's name is linked forever with Citizens' United, the Supreme Court decision that allows vast amounts of money to be poured into elections with little or no restrictions. Others brought the case before our nation's highest court, but Mr. Bopp laid the groundwork with more than 30 years hard work. For good or ill, Citizen's United is his responsibility.

Hold that thought.

Now, imagine a medical advance that might cure blindness, deafness, heart disease, memory loss, cancer and more -- would you criminalize that?

"... The Republicans' 2008 Presidential platform... is a call for a total ban on embryonic stem-cell research, including privately funded research... a ban on all embryonic stem-cell research, public or private."

And watch who disagrees.

The ban on research "drew opposition from Indiana delegate and pro-life activist James Bopp Jr. ... We should not be in the business of prohibiting therapeutic research," he said.

Is Mr. Bopp perhaps one of the increasingly rare Republican moderates?

Probably not. A visit to his website reveals this partial list of clients:

Representative Clientele (present and past):

National Right to Life Committee, Focus on the Family, Susan B. Anthony List, Catholic Answers, Christian Broadcasting Network, Priests for Life, Traditional Values Coalition, National Organization for Marriage, the Christian Coalition, National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation, Club for Growth, Citizens United, Federation for American Immigration Reform, Republican Governors Association, Republican National Committee, and the state Republican Parties of Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont.

But even for this ultimate conservative, the Republican ban on research was too much.

Sadly, his objections were over-ruled. The Republican platform contained a prohibition of embryonic stem cell research -- and this year's draft of the Republican platform appears much the same.

And what of GOP Presidential candidate Willard "Mitt" Romney? Where does he stand on the issue of federally funding embryonic stem cell research? He has pledged not to allow it.

Romney's pick for vice president, Paul Ryan, is even worse, as the co-sponsor of a "personhood" law that would almost inevitably criminalize the research.

Is embryonic stem cell research worth supporting?

Here are some updates:

Blindness, affecting both old and young: "Embryonic stem cell treatment... just approved for clinical trials may provide hope to the 10 to 15 million elderly... who suffer from... macular degeneration, which causes gradual blindness."

Stargardts, another form of blindness also undergoing clinical trial with embryonic stem cell trials, may strike patients in their teens.

Hearing loss: "Researchers at Stanford University in California have coaxed embryonic stem cells... into becoming the hair cells deep inside the ear that are destroyed in hearing loss..."

Heart Disease: "Researchers at Tottori University in Japan have successfully made heart pacemaker cells using the embryonic stem cells of mice..."

Memory Loss: At the University of California, Irvine, "rats whose brain function was impaired by radiation showed marked improvement after receiving injections of [human nerve cells] developed from embryonic stem cells."

Cancer: "In a study of human tumors growing in mice, University of Minnesota researchers have found that immune cells derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) completely eliminated the tumors in 100 percent -- 13 of 13 -- of mice tested."

And former President George W. Bush?

When he came to power, he was under pressure from extremists in his party to ban embryonic stem cell research. Bill Clinton found a way to fund the research; George Bush was expected to stop it.

But he didn't.

He allowed a narrow sliver of research to go through -- and the first use of the Bush-approved stem cell lines was an attempt to cure paralysis.

The initial research was paid for by a California State program named after my paralyzed son, the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act of 1999. It was done by a scientist named Hans Keirstead. On March 1, 2002, I held in my hand a rat which had been paralyzed, and which now walked again. It was a female lab rat, named Fighter, and when I felt her tiny leg muscles struggling to be free -- it was like touching tomorrow.

That research led to the first embryonic stem cell clinical trial in the world: the Geron trials. Sadly, after nine years of hard work, Geron had a management change; the new leadership chose to go after cancer instead of stem cells. But the effort advanced.

Stem cells can and should be above politics. In Barack Obama, Democrat, we have a president who understands the urgency of healing research.

But a Republican president let embryonic stem cell research move ahead.

And for that George W. Bush has my respect.

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