Bush's Jewish Allies Demur on Stem Cells

By Dana Milbank
Sunday, May 29, 2005

The fight to fund embryonic stem cell research has opened a fissure of biblical proportions.

When President Bush last week branded as unethical the stem-cell legislation making its way through Congress, he found himself in a dogma dispute with Orthodox Jews, one of his most valuable constituencies.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the umbrella group for the most conservative branch of Judaism, sided with Christian conservatives on the Terri Schiavo case, public displays of the Ten Commandments, opposition to assisted suicide and same-sex marriage, and more federal support for religious charities.

But after the House passed a bill Tuesday endorsing federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, the Orthodox group applauded. The "potential to save and heal human lives is an integral part of valuing human life," it said. "Moreover, the traditional Jewish perspective does not accord an embryo outside of the womb the full status of humanhood and its attendant protections."

That puts the Jews at odds with Bush -- who said the bill "would take us across a critical ethical line by creating new incentives for the ongoing destruction of emerging human life" -- and with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who condemned "the moral catastrophe of means-justifying-the-ends morality." It also conflicted with the Family Research Council, a Christian group that called the bill "unconscionable" and "morally abhorrent."

It was a reminder, as the Jewish group's public policy director, Nathan Diament, wrote in the Forward last year, that "Orthodox Jews are not merely evangelicals who read the Bible right to left."

National Review, a conservative publication that fiercely defends Bush, took an unusual tack; it published an article on its Web site explaining "why Judaism is wrong on stem cells." The article, by Eric Cohen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, describes the position of the Orthodox rabbis as "morally unconvincing," "irresponsible," "seemingly disingenuous" and "misguided."

"Jews," Cohen writes, "seem to have forgotten even the minimal liberal wisdom of tolerance -- the wisdom of not trampling on the moral opinions of their fellow citizens, like pro-life Christians, who believe embryo destruction is not only evil but the gravest evil."

The Jewish group did the Christian thing and turned the other cheek. "We have great respect for the president's view because he bases it on moral principle," Diament said.

Oh, Those Arcane Senate Rules

Let's start with the good news. In a multiple-choice quiz, 68 percent of Americans were able to identify the filibuster as a legislative procedure, compared with 10 percent who believed it to be a medical procedure, a household appliance, a sports term, a breed of horse or a type of sandwich.

On the other hand, the group that did the survey, "the polling company," found that 61 percent of Americans could not define a filibuster in their own words when multiple choices were not offered. Among those who did volunteer an answer, Sunday Politics' favorites were: "related to the Eagles"; "someone who pokes you in the stomach after you eat"; "someone who knocks you out"; "strike it rich"; and "put junk on the table."

Code Red for Apples

The Secret Service, which caused a stir recently when it asked for racial identities of reporters and their guests at the White House correspondents' dinner, is now engaging in fruit profiling. Los Angeles Times White House correspondent Edwin Chen says that when he went to a recent lunchtime Bush speech at the Wardman Park Marriott, agents confiscated his apple. But they let him keep two bananas. True, apples make better projectiles -- but banana peels are a major slipping hazard.

Kerry Feels Strongly Both Ways

It seems Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) was for the judges compromise before he was against it. At the end of Tuesday's Senate vote to surrender the filibuster in the case of judicial nominee Priscilla R. Owen, Kerry emerged from the cloakroom, said "Good work" to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- architect of the compromise that made the vote possible -- and then waved to the clerk and voted "no."

Onward and Upward

Running: Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) announced that he is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), joining a field that includes Democratic state Sen. Rosalind Kurita, Republican former House members Edward G. Bryant and Van Hilleary, and former GOP mayor of Chattanooga Bob Corker.

Mulling: Roll Call reports that Rep. Katherine Harris (R), of Florida recount fame, met with National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) to discuss a challenge to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) next year.

Culling: The Manchester Union Leader, influential newspaper in the first primary state, editorialized last week on Frist: "If he cannot effectively lead 55 Republican senators, how can he be trusted to lead the party and the country three years from now?"


"I think he's running for president."

-- Roberta McCain, 93, on her son Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to the New Yorker.

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