EVEN BEFORE the funeral, Republican congressmen and conservative activists are tripping over each other in a rush to add Ronald Reagan's likeness to American money. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) introduced a bill this week to put the former president on the half-dollar coin, displacing John F. Kennedy. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) prefers to yank Alexander Hamilton from the $10 bill, while Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) would retire Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill. Rep. Mark Edward Souder (R-Ind.) has been pushing for some time to put Mr. Reagan on the dime in place of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
All of these proposals are premature. There is no question that Mr. Reagan's was a fateful presidency marked by outsized accomplishments. There is no question either that he was revered by millions of Americans; the thousands who lined the route of his funeral procession in Washington yesterday gave some indication of that. But he is not yet a figure of national consensus. The movement to put him on the money is largely at this stage a partisan one, an effort by contemporary conservatives not only to honor their hero but also to advance their cause. If they have faith in history's judgment, they should give historians a few decades to work.
Congress and President Bush could more appropriately honor Mr. Reagan's memory right away by liberalizing the national policy on stem cell research. Such action would honor the wishes of his family and pay homage to the suffering he endured as an Alzheimer's disease patient. Research on embryonic stem cells could lead to advances in Alzheimer's care, as well as treatments for other debilitating conditions. And it is now clear that Mr. Bush's restrictive policy is beginning to hold back research: National Institutes of Health Director Elias A. Zerhouni recently conceded that "from a purely scientific perspective more cell lines may well speed some areas of [stem cell] research." If unchanged, Mr. Bush's policy could mean that effective therapies will be delayed and more people and families will suffer as the Reagans have. Avoiding that outcome should be a priority.