Michael Reagan holds his tongue.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Sept. 2 2004 7:42 PM

Man Bites Tongue

At this convention, nobody says "stem cells."

Michael Reagan did not, in the end, mention stem cells in his introduction  to the Republican convention's tribute to his father, Ronald Reagan. Michael had actually been saying for weeks prior to the speech that he wouldn't, but nobody believed him (including me), and stem-cell advocates issued an anticipatory rebuttal that turned out to be superfluous. He limited himself to a brief dig at abortion ("My mother, father, and birth-mother were pro-life, and pro-adoption") and a brief dig at his half-brother, Ron Reagan ("I've come to honor my father, not to politicize his name"). Ron, who for some reason has been made an MSNBC talking head, responded on Hardball with thinly veiled condescension ("I was glad that my brother got to do that. You could tell how much it meant to him") and contempt ("There are some [pathetic] children that want to emulate the parent by following in their footsteps, and other kids who, while they admire the qualities of the parent, don't necessarily have to put their footsteps in exactly the same places all the time").

Why didn't Michael discuss stem cells? "To politicize stem-cell research any more than it's already been politicized [by my left-wing dickhead half-brother] would be a disservice," Reagan elaborated to Anne-Marie O'Connor of the Los Angeles Times. A disservice to whom? Michael claims the Gipper agreed with him about the immorality of stem-cell research, so it wouldn't be a disservice to him. A likelier explanation for Michael's silence on stem-cell research, which has proven to be an astonishingly effective "wedge issue" for Democrats seeking to peel Republicans away from President Bush, is that Karl Rove made it a precondition of his appearance.

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Remember how loose talk at the Democratic convention of a Bush "ban" on federal funding for stem-cell research—in truth, Bush approved the funding, but only under pointlessly restrictive circumstances—prompted Bushies to boast that no president before Bush had ever funded any stem-cell research? ("It is true indeed that Bush's predecessors, from George Washington to Bill Clinton, failed to fund embryonic stem-cell research," replied former Slate editor Michael Kinsley in the Los Angeles Times. "Even Abraham Lincoln. ... Historians believe this might have been because it didn't exist yet.") Can you guess how many people have thus far repeated the "George W. Bush promotes stem-cell science" boast at the convention? Two: Laura Bush and Sen. Bill "Did I mention that I'm an M.D.?" Frist, R., Tenn. Indeed, these are the only two convention speakers who have uttered the phrase "stem cells" at all. The first lady uttered it once and Doc Frist (obviously peeved that Rove wouldn't let him wear scrubs) uttered it seven times. By comparison, the speakers at July's Democratic convention uttered "stem cells" 20 times. This imbalance is extraordinary when you consider that during the past four years Bush has implemented only four domestic policies worth talking about—the stem-cell decision, the "Leave No Child Behind" education bill, the Medicare drug-benefit bill (which was driven more by Congress), and the tax cuts. The first three are the only installment payments Bush bothered to make on "compassionate conservatism." And Republicans can only talk about two of them! So ... why should anybody vote for Bush? Oh, I forgot—because he's a master of foreign policy.

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.