Republicans Seen As Out Of Touch, Losing Support Of Voters Concerned About Science And The Modern World

There has been a lot of attention paid to the Hispanic vote in the past year but the Republican problem with minorities extends to many groups. Lloyd Green looked at why Republicans are losing votes among Asians. Some groups such as African-Americans might be less likely to vote for Republicans due to their history of racism and Hispanics might vote against Republicans for their views on immigration (which may also stem from conservative racism). Republicans have not provided comparable reasons for Asian-Americans to vote against them, but there are aspects of Republican policies which are unattractive to Asian-Americans. Green argues that Asian-Americans are voting against Republicans for the same reason as many other educated Americans:

These days, the GOP strikes Asian-Americans, along with many other Americans, as hostile to science and modernity. For example, George W. Bush severely restricted the use of federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research and cast his very first presidential veto to block enactment of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. More recently, Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia—a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and a prospective Senate candidate—declared that evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang were lies that emanated from the pit of Hell. Apparently, a low-taxes-only agenda is no longer enough to woo a demographic whose median household income exceeds $90,000 by the time that they become third-generation Americans.

And there is a further rub. According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of Asian immigrants hold at least a college degree—compared with less than one in three members of the overall adult population. At Cal Tech—where race, ethnicity, and legacy status are excluded from admissions criteria—Asian-Americans comprise nearly 40 percent of the student body. At MIT, which professes a commitment to diversity, Asian-Americans comprise more than a quarter of students.

What’s more, Asian-American students tend to concentrate in the STEM jobs—sciences, technology, mathematics, and engineering—that are crucial to our economy. Thus, in a sense, Asian-Americans are not just another ethnic group waiting for a politician to march in a parade, eat some exotic food, and then announce a community grant or shill for votes. Rather, they are also a subset of high-tech America, and one thing is clear: high-tech America is not in love with the Republican Party.

This is consistent with other findings from Pew Research showing that many believe the Republicans are out of touch with the modern world:

At a time when the Republican Party’s image is at a historic low, 62% of the public says the GOP is out of touch with the American people, 56% think it is not open to change and 52% say the party is too extreme.

Opinions about the Democratic Party are mixed, but the party is viewed more positively than the GOP in every dimension tested except one. Somewhat more say the Republican Party than the Democratic Party has strong principles (63% vs. 57%).

Being seen as having strong principles might not necessarily be good in terms of modern political issues. Often Republicans chose their principles and ideology over facts while Democrats tend to take a more pragmatic view of the issues. The bigger problem is that while Republicans may be characterized more by strong principles, Republicans  follow the wrong principles in opposing science, knowledge, and the modern world. On the other hand, there are times when I would like to see the Democrats more consistently defend liberal principles.

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Michigan Governor Rick Snyder Might Provide A Preview Of A Romney Presidency

Now that we know that the election should come down to a choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney we can speculate on what will happen after next January 20, 2013. If Obama is reelected it seems a safe prediction that he will continue on a moderate course. He will continue to frustrate those on the left at times, but he will be far more rational than the extremist policies now supported by most Republicans. Economic realities will further frustrate many on the left as the fiscal conservative side of Obama is likely to dominate, but if there are to be cuts to spending I would much rather that Barack Obama as opposed to any current Republican be influencing matters from the White House.

Mitt Romeny is a little more difficult to predict considering that on any given day he is likely to have taken any position on virtually any issue. Although he has campaigned as a liberal in Massachusetts, most likely he will at best be a moderate in office, and there is the very real risk he will feel obligated to prove that he is as “severely conservative” as he now says he is.

The outcome of a Romney presidency is likely to be influenced to a considerable degree by the type of Congress which is elected. If, as has often occurred in the post-war era, he is a Republican facing a Democratic Congress, it is possible that he might govern as a moderate, figuring that it is better to get something meaningful done rather than spending his time in gridlock. On the other hand, he might be so indebted to the far right, and fearful of a primary challenge, that he might push a far right wing agenda regardless of whether it could pass in Congress.

Should Romney win, for at least the first two years it is more likely that he would also bring in a Republican Congress with him. It would be difficult for the Democrats to hold enough seats to maintain control of the Senate considering that the Democrats are defending twenty-three seats while the Republicans are only defending ten in a year going the Republican’s way. The Republicans would also only need a tie to control the Senate should Romney win. The Democrats now have a real shot to take control of the House if everything goes their way in 2012, but this becomes a very long shot if we are facing a fall in which Romney is able to take the swing states which as of now are leaning Democratic.

Ezra Klein sees a scenario such as this leading to Romney becoming a transformational president–and not in a good way:

If Romney wins the election, it’s almost a sure bet that Republicans win control of both the House and the Senate. And that matters. Right now, the GOP’s agenda is the Ryan budget, and that’s entirely fiscal: It’s a premium support plan for Medicare, and tax cuts, and deep cuts to Medicaid, food stamps and other domestic programs. All that can be passed through budget reconciliation — which is to say, all that can be made immune to the filibuster.

I would take this a step further. A Romney victory could lead to a move to the far right even if Romneyy preferred more moderate policies. A model for a Romney presidency might be seen in Michigan, where moderates and many Democrats backed Rick Snyder. Snyder is a moderate who is certainly preferable to other GOP choices such as the extremely far right-wing Pete Hoekstra, who has not been on speaking terms with reality for several years. Many Democrats supported Snyder because it was clear that there would be a Republican landslide in 2010 and wanted the lesser evil.

Unfortunately, while we were spared four years of Pete Hoekstra as governor, which would certainly have  left us in a far worse situation than we are now in, the GOP wave in 2010 brought in a far-right Republican-controlled legislature. Rick Snyder might prefer to concentrate on the economy and avoid controversial social issues, but the legislature does not feel the same. MLive showed how this has moved Snyder’s agenda to the right, despite his personal views:

Snyder has surprised some insiders by signing some bills that strayed from the economic agenda that he pledged to pursue, or perhaps leaned more to the right than the centrist governor tends to lean.

Snyder talked of staying clear of divisive social issues, but signed bills prohibiting public employers from extending domestic partner benefits.

He has said picking a fight with unions was not part of his agenda, but gave his approval to bills prohibiting school districts from collecting dues for unions.

Last week, Snyder added his signature to the bill repealing the law requiring most motorcycle riders to wear helmets – something Granholm rejected twice.

“Gov. Snyder can keep saying ‘This is not the agenda I want,’ but if he’s going to keep signing these bills it’s certainly the agenda he has,” said Doug Pratt, public affairs director for the Michigan Education Association.

“The governor says he’s a moderate guy, but when it comes to putting pen to paper it sure looks like he’s rubber stamping the extremist policies that he rejected as a candidate.”

Romney, like Synder, might prefer to campaign on economic issues, but he will not be able to avoid conservative social issues. Mitt Romney says we should leave contraception alone, but would anyone trust him to block Republican legislation which restricts it? Rick Snyder has two things between his legs which Mitt Romney lacks. There is little doubt that Romney would not be the political equivalent of a eunuch, showing no ability to stand up to the far right, regardless of how extreme. Democrats might have a better shot of blocking social as opposed to economic issues by filibustering in the Senate, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Republicans rewrite the Senate rules to prevent this if they control both Houses of Congress and the White House.

This could lead to a situation where the far right wing of the Republican Party could push their extremist agenda on social as well as economic issues, with no way to block them. In Michigan, Rick Snyder has on occasion stood up to the far right, such as backing stem cell research at the University of Michigan despite Republican opposition. What chance is there that Romney has the cojones to do the same?

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Michael Kinsley’s Review of Decision Points

Michael Kinsley has reviewed George Bush’s book Decision Points for The New York Times Sunday Book Review. At times I felt Kinsley was going soft on Bush, considering how much damage the former president did to the country. I imagine it is acceptable to point out that there were two things Bush tried to do right:

While George the elder talked a good “kinder, gentler,” but did little about it, George the younger has two real achievements along those lines: first, his many efforts, only partly successful but starting immediately after 9/11 (and therefore, it seems, instinctive) to prevent an explosion of anti-Muslim prejudice; and his leadership in the fight against AIDS in Africa.

Seeing the degree of Islamophobia being spread by the right wing, it is notable that Bush was preferable on this issue to the current conservative position.

Bush did concede two errors on the war, but Kinsley was far too soft on him here:

Which brings us to Iraq. Bush admits to just two errors in prosecuting that war. One was to have been unprepared for the “contingency” of a law-and-order breakdown in Baghdad after the Hussein government was toppled. This surely was closer to a certainty than a contingency. “Saddam had warped the psychology of Iraqis in ways we didn’t fully understand,” Bush says. But what country’s capital would not descend into chaos and anarchy if it had no government and a steady rain of bombs was destroying its infrastructure?

Bush’s other error, of course, was those weapons of mass destruction. His defense is that virtually everyone — including his predecessor, Bill Clinton, and his 2004 rival, John Kerry — also believed there were such weapons, or the ability to build them. Bush is enraged by the slogan “Bush lied. People died.” He wasn’t lying! He honestly believed that Hussein had these weapons hidden away somewhere — believed it just like everyone else. Furthermore, Hussein was a stinker whether or not he had W.M.D. He deserved his fate. And wasn’t bringing freedom and democracy to the people of Iraq reason enough for our actions?

So if Bush wasn’t  lying, he was utterly incompetent for going to war based on such flimsy evidence. Saying that others such as John Kerry thought there was WMD at one time is hardly justification for going to war considering that in the run up to the war Kerry repeatedly urged Bush not to rush to go to war. Kerry insisted on only going to war as a last resort, and argued it was not necessary at the time. Kerry even called for regime change in Washington at the onset of the war–something Kerry unfortunately came just a little short of accomplishing in 2004.

Kinsley did far better in discussing Bush’s opposition to stem cell research:

There is one big issue during Bush’s presidency that he not only got wrong, but seems to have totally misunderstood. That is stem cells. “At its core,” Bush writes ponderously, “the stem cell question harked back to the philosophical clash between science and morality.” He announced to his aides that “I considered this a far-reaching decision,” and “I laid out a process for making it. I would clarify my guiding principles, listen to experts on all sides of the debate, reach a tentative conclusion and run it past knowledgeable people. After finalizing a decision, I would explain it to the American people. Finally, I would set up a process to ensure that my policy was implemented.”

To call this a question of science versus morality is to stack the deck. Obviously morality wins. But what is immoral about stem cell research? Bush talks about how “new technologies like 3-D ultrasounds” will help “more Americans recognize the humanity of unborn babies.” He seems to think an embryo is like a fetus — a tiny human being — rather than what it is: a clump of a few dozen cells, invisible without a microscope, unthinking and unfeeling. Nature itself — or God himself, if you’re a believer — destroys most of the embryos it creates every year in miscarriages (usually before a woman even knows she’s pregnant). Thousands more are created and destroyed or frozen in fertility clinics — which Bush has no problem with and may even have used himself. (He and Laura, he says, tried unsuccessfully to have a baby and were ready to adopt when suddenly they had twins.) A very few of those surplus embryos from fertility clinics are used in stem cell research. By what logic do you bar the use of those few to do some real good, while ignoring all the others that come and go without doing any good for anyone?

Although President Obama lifted the ban on ­government-subsidized stem cell research, Bush’s policy continues to do damage by leaving the impression that stem cells are controversial and require some sort of compromise between science and morality. They don’t. And Bush seems to think that the advent of adult stem cells offers a morally uncomplicated alternative that vindicates his policy. It doesn’t. You don’t shut down one promising area of research just because another one has opened up.

The stem cell decision came early in Bush’s presidency. It would be nice to say that Bush grew in office — like Henry V, the wastrel youth and son of a famous father to whom he was often compared. But judging from this book, it didn’t happen. Although Bush is admirable for stopping, he probably was more fun when he drank.

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Nature Comments on Science Scorned By The American Right Wing

The most important issues in American politics are not the fights over a few percentage points in the marginal tax rate, or the silly arguments from the right wing claiming that Barack Obama is a Muslim. The most important distinction between left and right is support for science and reason or support for the anti-intellectualism of the right wing. Nature has weighed in on this:

There is a growing anti-science streak on the American right that could have tangible societal and political impacts on many fronts — including regulation of environmental and other issues and stem-cell research. Take the surprise ousting last week of Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent Republican senator for Alaska, by political unknown Joe Miller in the Republican primary for the 2 November midterm congressional elections. Miller, who is backed by the conservative ‘Tea Party movement’, called his opponent’s acknowledgement of the reality of global warming “exhibit ‘A’ for why she needs to go”.

The right-wing populism that is flourishing in the current climate of economic insecurity echoes many traditional conservative themes, such as opposition to taxes, regulation and immigration. But the Tea Party and its cheerleaders, who include Limbaugh, Fox News television host Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin (who famously decried fruitfly research as a waste of public money), are also tapping an age-old US political impulse — a suspicion of elites and expertise.

Denialism over global warming has become a scientific cause célèbre within the movement. Limbaugh, for instance, who has told his listeners that “science has become a home for displaced socialists and communists”, has called climate-change science “the biggest scam in the history of the world”. The Tea Party’s leanings encompass religious opposition to Darwinian evolution and to stem-cell and embryo research — which Beck has equated with eugenics. The movement is also averse to science-based regulation, which it sees as an excuse for intrusive government. Under the administration of George W. Bush, science in policy had already taken knocks from both neglect and ideology. Yet President Barack Obama’s promise to “restore science to its rightful place” seems to have linked science to liberal politics, making it even more of a target of the right.

Related Story: Anti-Science Friday: Demonic Possession Yes, Relativity No According to Conservapedia

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Academic Study of Ideologues Ignoring The Facts

The Boston Globe has an article which describes a phenomenon which has been clear for a long time as a new discovery. They reported on studies which found that people, especially ideologues, often ignore facts which contradict their views:

Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

This is hardly surprising. We’ve seen this during the Iraq war as many conservatives held onto beliefs that there was WMD in Iraq or that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attack. In addition, we see conservatives expressing numerous beliefs which are counter to fact. In economics we see conservatives hold onto the same erroneous economic views regardless of how often they lead to disaster. In science this includes belief in creationism and denial of the human role in climate change. In history we see a growing number of conservatives deny the fact that the Founding Fathers supported separation of church and state despite all the historical documentation that this is what they intended.

The conservative movement, with its disconnect from reality, is also prone to spreading unfounded conspiracy theories. In recent elections we’ve seen them hold onto disputed claims such as those from the Swift Boat Liars and the Birthers. Many conservatives continue to claim that neither John Kerry’s military record or Barack Obama’s birth certificate have been released. In reality, not only have both documents been made public but they have also been posted on line. Then we have the Tea Party movement which is totally disconnected from reality.

Of course there are also some nutty views held on the far left too. The difference is that  the left in this country is dominated by people who are generally pragmatic and even moderate by international standards. Those with views which are contrary to fact on the left tend to have little influence, while the conservative movement has become dominated by ideologues who deny the facts whenever they contradict their extremist views.

The researchers looked at a few specific issues:

New research, published in the journal Political Behavior last month, suggests that once those facts — or “facts” — are internalized, they are very difficult to budge. In 2005, amid the strident calls for better media fact-checking in the wake of the Iraq war, Michigan’s Nyhan and a colleague devised an experiment in which participants were given mock news stories, each of which contained a provably false, though nonetheless widespread, claim made by a political figure: that there were WMDs found in Iraq (there weren’t), that the Bush tax cuts increased government revenues (revenues actually fell), and that the Bush administration imposed a total ban on stem cell research (only certain federal funding was restricted). Nyhan inserted a clear, direct correction after each piece of misinformation, and then measured the study participants to see if the correction took.

For the most part, it didn’t. The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic — a factor known as salience — the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total.

Incorrect views on the right, such as on WMD and the effect of tax cuts, are fairly widespread. I imagine that there are some on the left who believe that Bush supported total restrictions on stem cell research, but most liberal writings have been more specific in criticizing Bush for the federal restrictions on funding of stem cell research. Articles frequently noted that, while the ban was not total, Bush’s limitations on the stem cell lines on which research was allowed wound up crippling stem cell research.

This phenomenon described is hardly surprising or anything new, but there might be some value in publicizing such academic research. This might help a bit in countering the misinformation which commonly comes from Fox and the Tea Party rallies. Of course the research also demonstrates what we already knew–those who believe these claims are unlikely to change their minds based upon the facts.

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Conservative Religious Leaders Issue Declaration Opposing Gay Marriage Rights and Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Conservatives love to play the victim, even when they are engaged in denying the rights of others. A group of  conservative religious leaders have issued the Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience. This declaration says “they oppose laws that would compel them to recognize gay unions or marriages, among other social issues.”

The document says, “We will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other antilife act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent.”

The document’s language also takes aim at other gay rights laws, including a recently approved law that adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of federally recognized hate crimes and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would ban workplace discrimination against gay men, lesbians and transgender people.

Social conservatives have argued that such measures would have a chilling effect on religious liberties.

The declaration confuses the issues and clearly shows why we need separation of church and state to defend religious liberties. The point of changing the law to allow marriage equality is to provide gays the same right to marriage that the rest of us enjoy. While gays would legally be allowed to be married, this would not compel any church or religious institution to perform gay marriages, participate in abortions, or any other acts that violate their religious principles.

The principle of separation of church and state, which the religious right often denies, is what protects churches from participating in activities they oppose. In return, churches and other religious bodies not have the right to impose their religious views upon others.

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Blinded By Hysteria About “Socialized Medicine”

Glenn Reynolds presents the usual conservative hysteria against health care reform.  He brings up the usual nonsense lines that reform will bring about “socialized medicine” as he writes about the benefits of modern health care while ignoring the problem that our system denies such care to tens of millions. He ignores the frustration of  those of us who practice medicine who realize how far we are falling behind the rest of the industrialized world in so many ways.

As I’ve stated many times in the past, you can tell that an article on health care reform is not worth reading when they bring up scare stories about Great Britain as a government run system of this type is not on the table here. The British system is opposed by virtually all supporters of health care reform. His arguments against “socialized medicine” and the British system may or may not be true, but they have no relevance with regards to the current health care debate. Those who rely on scare stories about “socialized medicine” are just avoiding a discussion of the real issues under consideration.

Of particular absurdity is his argument against preventive medicine because of examples where receiving preventive medicine might not have mattered. This has no bearing on the many cases we see of people who do die because they did not receive routine preventive medicine, or did not have coverage for routine treatment of chronic medical diseases.

I had seen this op-ed as not being worth any time commenting on after writing about the absurdity of equating health care reform with socialized medicine so many times in the past. Then I reached the last paragraph:

It’s ironic that the same Democrats who were pushing the medical prospects for stem-cell research during the last election are now pushing a program that will make such progress far less likely.

While the right claims that it is health care reform which will limit health care, this shows just one example how it has really been Democrats who in many ways have been pushing to expand health care choices and reduce interference from restrictive government regulations. Besides stem-cell research, we have also seen this as conservatives have tried to limit or ban abortion and birth control, and their interference in end of life decisions such as with Terri Schiavo.

Reynolds, with his hysteria about “socialized medicine” and lack of understanding of the harm caused by corporate medicine and practices of the insurance industry, sees irony in Democratic support for eliminating the restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research. While his view that health care reform will make such progress any less likely are based upon his irrational views on the health care system, perhaps at least some readers will see his conclusion and question which side is really the one which is responsible for reducing health care choices in this country.

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New Guidelines To Expand Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bloomberg reports on the impact of new regulations regarding federal funding of embryonic stem cell research:

Stem cell research in the U.S. will expand under rules that allow federal government funding for scientists working with unused embryos created at fertility clinics, freeing hundreds of cell lines for study.

The final guidelines released today by the National Institutes of Health increase the number of stem cell lines available for research from 20 to more than 700, the acting director of the agency, Raynard Kington, said in a conference call. Funding for new lines require documents showing the cells were donated, and stem cells being used for research and those from other countries can be approved by an NIH working group.

Embryonic stem cells can grow into any kind of tissue and may accelerate research into cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. President Barack Obama on March 9 lifted restrictions on U.S. government funding for the research imposed in 2001 by former President George W. Bush. The NIH received more than 49,000 comments on the draft rules.

The new rules are “a big step forward,” said Susan Solomon, chief executive officer of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, in a telephone interview today. The absence of a working group option “may well have been an oversight in the draft version.”

An earlier draft of the guidelines released for public feedback in April would have excluded some existing stem cell lines that didn’t meet all the requirements. The new rules ban U.S. funding to scientists using stem cells from embryos created solely for research purposes.

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Obama Gets Second Chance With Nancy Reagan

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Yesterday I noted how Barack Obama missed a good public relations opportunity when he did not invite Nancy Reagan to attend the ceremony where he announced the reversal of George Bush’s ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Nancy Reagan had said she would have liked to attend, and Obama soon got another chance to appear with her. Washington Wire reports:

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan has made a rare trip to Washington, D.C., this week for events to honor her late husband, President Ronald Reagan, and meet with the Obama family.

Reagan appeared alongside President Barack Obama today as he signed legislation creating the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission, tasked with planning and carrying out activities to mark the 100th birthday of the former president in 2011.

On Wednesday, the former first lady will also attend a bipartisan ceremony in the U.S. Capitol’s Rotunda to unveil a seven foot statue of the late president. She is also scheduled to have lunch with First Lady Michelle Obama. The two women have spoken before, when Obama called her after the election on advice for living in the White House…

Obama made a point of mentioning stem cell research as he stood with the former first lady today. “There are few who are not moved by the love that Mrs. Reagan felt for her husband — and fewer still who are not inspired by how this love led her to take up the twin causes of stem cell research and Alzheimer’s research,” he said. “In saying a long goodbye, Nancy Reagan became a voice on behalf of millions of families experiencing the depleting, aching reality of Alzheimer’s disease.”

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Missed Opportunity By Obama

nancy-reagan1-pc-jbecker

When Barack Obama announced his reversal of George Bush’s ban on embryonic stem cell research I was wondering if Nancy Reagan would be invited. The political benefits of doing this were obvious. When she wasn’t invited I guessed that this might be because her health wouldn’t permit her to attend. From an interview in Vanity Fair it now looks like this was a missed opportunity for Obama:

She feels President Obama missed an opportunity when he did not invite her to the ceremony announcing his reversal of Bush’s policy on embryonic-stem-cell research. “I would have gone, and you know I don’t like to travel,” she tells Colacello. “Politically it would have been a good thing for him to do. Oh, well, nobody’s perfect. He called and thanked me for working on it. But he could have gotten more mileage out of it.”

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