Sunday, November 02, 2003
Stem cells and President Bush.
(1) The series started with a column by syndicated Post columnist Michaeld Kinsley that appeared on October 24 (One Reason Not to Like Bush (washingtonpost.com)). In this piece, Kinsley argued that Bush's policy on federal funding was "unexpectedly restrictive" and was based upon two factual assumptions that turn out not to be true: (1) there are 60 viable stem cell lines available for stem cell research (turns out it's more like 10) and (2) there is hope for the process by which adult stem cells could be switched on to behave like pluripotential embryonic stem cells, a claim that has been authoritatively debunked by an article in the scientific journal Nature.
(2) The Bush administration replied with an Op-Ed in the Washington Post on October 30 by Jay Lefkowitz, who was chair of the White House Domestic Policy Council until last month. Lefkowitz asserted that the president "made the first-ever offer of federal aid to support the research" and responds to Kinsley's attack on the two bedrock assumptions that underlay the president's policies.
(3) Kinsley's reply ("Kabuki and Stem Cells") appeared on October 31. He yields no points to Lefkowitz, and his arguments on the merits of the stem-cell debate are worth reading. Of greater interest to some will be Kinsely's critique of Lefkowitz' response "as an illustration of modern Washington dishonesty":
I do not assert that Republicans are more dishonest than Democrats -- only that this document is a choice example of the state of the art.Kinsley then nicely skewers Lefkowitz' points, 1 by 1, 1-2-3.
The distinguishing feature of modern Washington dishonesty is that it is almost transparent, barely intended to deceive. It uses true-ish factoids to construct an implied assertion about reality that is not just false but preposterous. Modern Washington dishonesty is more like a kabuki ritual than a realistic, Western-style performance. The goal is not to persuade but merely to create an impression that there are two sides to the question without actually having to supply one of them.