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Here is a short excerpt of an aticle I just finished writing and that is relevant to Ralph’s Manifesto 1.3.1:

The differences between Bush’s “Executive Order Expanding Approved Stem Cell Lines” (June 20, 2007) and Obama’s Executive Order overturning it are striking especially given the popular mischaracterization of both. Despite its demonization as a right wing Christian rejection of modern science if not modernity as a whole, the language of Bush’s order manages to acknowledge the serious and profound ethical dilemmas that surround stem cell research and to clearly articulate both the scientific and moral principles that ground its decisions. Thus, the order recognizes the great promise of biomedical innovation but also its potential conflict with “human life and human dignity” making it “critical to establish moral and ethical boundaries to allow the Nation to move forward vigorously with medical research”. In fact, the entire document is a model of transparent political argument meant to broker some measure of civic compromise without sacrificing either clarity or conviction regarding moral principle. Bush even draws attention to the unique difficulties that present itself to the federal government as a democratic body that represents a constituency with diverse moral worldviews and that therefore has a “duty to exercise responsible stewardship of taxpayer funds”.

In his remarks delivered to the press, Obama does discuss the moral “concerns” of many “thoughtful and decent people” and the corresponding need to maintain the kind of “difficult and delicate balance” such concerns warrant. However, despite the directive to “respect their point of view” he marginalizes such dissent by claiming that the “majority of Americans . . . have come to a consensus” and that the “proper course has become clear”. In other words, they’re simply wrong and nearly everyone knows it. In fact, Obama implies less than subtly that the time for “discussion, debate, and reflection” has really passed and that there is nothing left but “a false choice between sound science and moral values”. For those who still cling to their now fully discredited religious reservations Obama assures them that he offers this dismissal of their views as a “person of faith”; likewise, for those who still insist there is any moral uncertainty, he comforts them with the simplistic platitude that the only relevant moral imperative is our “work to ease human suffering”. Obama’s rhetorical gestures towards the opposition are transparently perfunctory—he is so insistent on avoiding any real political compromise whatsoever that he actually neglects to even mention the possibility that a real avoidance of moral controversy might be possible by scientific means. While much of Bush’s original order was devoted to the exciting discoveries being made for “less morally problematic alternatives” to embryos as a source of stem cells, Obama fails to mention these, or that his new Executive Order also revokes Bush’s encouragement for exploring them, choosing to support “promising research of all kinds”, problematic and otherwise.

In contradistinction to Bush’s circumspect effort to hit the right relation between scientific progress and political restraint, Obama attempts to render them mutually exclusive: he wants scientists to operate free of the “manipulation and coercion” that are constitutive of any “political agenda”. To ensure that “scientific data is never distorted” and that “scientific decisions are based on facts, not ideology” Obama effectively denies that there are any political judgments that can’t be settled by scientific investigation. For Obama, “responsibly conducted science” means unobstructed by political intrusion, free even from the democratic will of the people. Science trumps politics entirely or, to be more precise, simply absorbs it-any reference to values or interests that can’t be legitimated by scientific analysis is branded as ideology, whether or not supported by popular consent. Obama goes as far as to suggest that the political aggrandizement of America as a nation is inseparable from its stewardship of technological innovation—he not only wants to “advance the cause of science in America” but also hopes for “America to lead the world in the discoveries it may one day yield”. To update John Winthrop’s famous line, we shall be as a laboratory upon a hill.

The real danger of Obama’s technocratic administration is the habit to tendentiously recast serious moral and political debates as misguided arguments about plainly observable scientific fact. Our most complex and tempestuous moral issues today are biotechnological—these not only live in the often dark interstices between science and morality but also demand a serious reflection on the limits of human nature and the natural conditions necessary for human flourishing. Of course, such philosophical dilemmas involve science and require the assistance of scientists to draw the line between what is and isn’t technologically feasible and medically safe. Nevertheless, questions regarding the limits of science and the limits of human nature are not themselves solely or even primarily scientific questions—in fact, science in general has proven remarkably tone deaf to the bioethical implications of its own innovation.

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