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Political Fallout Follows Bush's Stem Cell Decision

The president's stem cell decision has a lot of political consequences. To explain, Craig Crawford, editor in chief of the online journal Hotline, spoke with the Early Show from Washington, DC.

President Bush announced a sort of middling, split-the-difference decision on embryonic stem cell research--placating as best he could both sides on the divisive issue. He said he would allow limited federal funding but only for existing lines of stem cells.

Crawford says Bush seems to have successfully played the middle--that while there has been some criticism from the far Left and far, far Right, on the whole most people seem relieved and okay with his decision. "All I know right now is that I have heard that Jerry Falwell is very happy with decision, as is Mary Tyler Moore. So you just have to say that Bush hit the target: He managed to find a way to go that let him stray a bit away from the conservatives without detaching and not totally infuriating moderates and some liberals.

"He knew the hard core of either wing of politics was going to hate whatever he did, so he made a play for the best center he could find and he found it," says Crawford.

He says Bush's presentation probably made a lot of sense to the general public, who may not know about all the gray or complicated science. And he did so in a classic case of "Clintonesque triangulation."

"Just like Clinton's welfare reform moves, Bush played to the middle, to the Left, and to the Right. The question in the near future is if he can play it out: Otherwise it becomes self-strangulation. I think he will manage this. He may have dodged a bullet with this one."

As for legislatively, whether the Democrats are going to do anything in response, Crawford says Daschle has an interesting choice to make. Daschle has to decide whether to take Bush on and have his party make a stand against Bush on this issue. He probably has the votes to do so in the Senate, but that would mean having to work out an argument that makes Bush out to be using this decision as a prolife abortion issue and emphasize that in upcoming midterm races to try and turn women off of Bush. So, Bush gave him a small target with this, but that is still a target.

The trouble is that that argument will be difficult and confusing to make, and Crawford says the Democrats will have to just drop taking Bush on regarding this subject. He thinks the Democrats will move on and leave this issue alone. So, in a sense, Bush did trump them on this issue in that he wins his position without a likely fight from the Democrats.

As for why he decided to make this a national address and not leave it to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson or an agency to work out and take the heat, Crawford is now fully convinced "it was a way of appeasing the conservatives. By taking the issue on himself, taking the heat and then lecturing the American people and laying out his version of the ethics behinhis decision, he elevated the Christian Right's position to the level of the presidency, the 'bully pulpit.' He put their agenda front and center, even though they did not get a total ban on funding."

"So, here we see Jerry Falwell happy, Southern Baptists content if not happy. They and their arguments got a lot of TV time and this president elevated their positions. He made them feel, and they truly were, players."

At the same time Crawford says he was struck at how unpresidential and odd the address was--not that that is political, but an observation--tie askew, birds flying around in the background, hokey house, weird speaking manner.

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