Boston, Massachusetts — The audience didn’t quite know what to make of the speaker — son of former Republican President Ronald Reagan — but a number of Reagan Democrats remain in the party and they gave him a warm, if not enthusiastic, reception. His ideas, though, clearly resounded with the delegates who cheered and roared approval. Some polls indicate that nearly 70 percent of the public supports stem-cell research. The problem is that much of the public fails to differentiate between adult stem-cell research — which is currently effective in scientific research and treating 45 different diseases — and embryonic stem-cell research — which has yet to live up to the extravagant hope of its proponents, treating not a single condition.
Ron Reagan’s speech had four major problems:
1) Political Opportunism. Reagan began his remarks with the disclaimer that his speech was not political, nor was it partisan. With that lofty statement out of the way, Ron went on to present a skillfully worded political treatise that not only addressed the delegates in the hall, but also the millions around the world who were watching via television. He concluded with a statement blatantly political and partisan when he asked the delegates, and thus all American voters, to cast their ballots for embryonic stem-cell research — which was, essentially, an endorsement of John Kerry, the only candidate who unreservedly promotes embryonic stem-cell research.
2) Error and Exaggeration. Neither a scientist nor a professional researcher, Ron Reagan called embryonic stem-cell research “the greatest breakthrough in our or in any lifetime.” His other references to embryonic stem-cell research were equally uninformed, but presented in glowing, idealistic, unrealistic, theoretical and overly optimistic terms. Reagan presented his “snake-oil” version of embryonic stem-cell research as an individual’s “own personal biological repair kit.” Offering such unfounded hope to millions who suffer or have loved ones who suffer from currently incurable diseases and/or irreversible injuries is unbelievably cruel.
Ron Reagan’s other statements of “fact”: that “no fetal tissue is involved,” that “no fetuses are destroyed,” and that “the cells have only theoretical potential of developing into human beings” are misleading. “Fetus” defines a stage of development, as “embryo” does. He could also say no “toddler tissue” or “adolescent tissue” is involved. Ironically, he portrays fetal tissue harvesting as unconscionable, when in fact Bill Clinton, a speaker from the night before, signed an executive order allowing federal funding for fetal tissue research.
3) Faulty Logic. In one of Reagan’s most egregious statements, he said that “the theology of the few” should not be “allowed to forestall the health and well-being of the many.” Theology, of course, is not based on polls, nor is its validity determined by how many people adhere to its tenets. Theology is based on eternal verities and is founded on the solid foundation of Truth — not opinion, suppositions, popularity contests or general acceptance among the populace.
Ron described the “hallmark of human intelligence” as being based on our ability to “make distinctions” and added that “surely” we human beings “can distinguish between these undifferentiated cells multiplying in a tissue culture and a living, breathing person.”
A stereotypical logical fallacy is to set up polarized alternatives as a false choice. Reagan began his speech’s conclusion with just such a false choice. He said, “Americans face a choice . . . for the good of humanity.” Then he lined up three false choices: choose the future or the past, choose reason or ignorance, choose compassion or ideology.
4) Emotional Demagoguery. Perhaps the lowest moment of his speech was when he talked about embryonic stem-cell research as “crucial” and that those who are “grinding a political axe” by opposing it “should be ashamed of themselves.” Others who oppose using embryonic stem cells in research, he allowed, are “well-meaning and sincere” — a patronizing and condescending nod to those whose faith is deeply held and know more about the science than he does. He went on with an arrogant, dismissive summary that “their belief is an article of faith and they are entitled to it.” In other words, they are ignorant and irrelevant so don’t pay any attention to them.
Using the tried and true persuasive technique of “visualization” — ending with a story that will touch the heartstrings of your audience just before presenting them with clear direction for a strong “action” — Ron told about a 13-year-old girl with juvenile diabetes and thus an uncertain future. With heart-rending sincerity, he asked, “Do we tell her that when we had opportunity, we turned away; that when facing political opposition we lost our nerve; that we knew better, but did nothing?” Of course, no caring person would turn away and do nothing! But, our emotional compassion for that little girl lacks the power to cure her disease. Sadly, there is no proof that embryonic stem-cell research will be any more effective than our tears for her plight.
Her best hope, at this point, is the promise of adult stem-cell and related research. Juvenile diabetes is already being treated with cadaver pancreatic islet transplants, freeing some patients from insulin.
Rhetorically, Ron Reagan lost his nerve as he ended his speech. His written words were an “MGM” conclusion, but he couldn’t quite pull off his father’s dynamism and charisma as he delivered the words: “We owe this young woman, and all who suffer, better than that.” He declared — seemingly without conviction: “The tide of history is with us . . . this is our moment . . . we must not falter!”
Then, he ruined his plea with crass political calculation by, in effect, asking Americans to cast their votes for John Kerry.
His father would not have been proud. And Nancy shouldn’t be either.
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse is spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee. She is in Boston for the Democratic National Convention.