The Scientific Activist

As 2008 approaches, many of the Republican contenders for the Presidency will try to paint themselves as moderates. An article in today’s Washington Post, though, underlines why we should be weary of their empty rhetoric.

Romney, who is expected to formally enter the presidential race today in Dearborn, Mich., has been particularly aggressive. In October he held a casual gathering at his Boston home for a who’s who of social conservative leaders. Falwell and evangelist Franklin Graham munched on sandwiches and sipped soup alongside former presidential candidate Gary Bauer and pastor Richard Lee of First Redeemer Church in Atlanta.

Romney will also host a private reception for Christian radio and television hosts during the National Religious Broadcasters’ annual meeting next week in Orlando, and he is expected to be the commencement speaker at the Rev. Pat Robertson’s Regent University in May.

Not to be outdone, McCain will be feted by Falwell at a reception at the religious broadcasters’ convention, the latest sign of detente between onetime adversaries. Last May, McCain delivered the commencement address at Falwell’s Liberty University.

McCain and Romney have also done significant spadework to recruit well-regarded social conservative operatives to their cause. McCain has inked Marlene Elwell, who oversaw Robertson’s 1988 presidential campaign in Michigan, and Judy Haynes, a former senior official in the Christian Coalition. Romney’s team includes Gary Marx, a former head of the Virginia Christian Coalition who was the day-to-day coordinator of evangelical support for President Bush’s reelection campaign.

Does this matter to science? You bet. For example, although the cause and effect usually runs in the other direction, Romney even bases his anti-choice stance on his opposition to stem cell research.

Romney told them he changed his mind about abortion during the debate over embryonic stem cell research, and he recounted a discussion with stem cell experts from Harvard in which he was offended by the casual, clinical way in which they spoke about the destruction of fetuses.

“He said it just hit him, suddenly and powerfully, that we are dealing with life,” said Sekulow, who decided at the lunch to back Romney’s campaign. “Some say this is flip-flopping. It’s not. He just flipped. . . . I think it’s from the heart.”

There is nothing moderate about Romney’s position on this issue. In 2005 as governor of Massachusetts, Romney vetoed a bill that would allow embryonic stem cell research in the state. (The state legislature eventually overrode his veto.) As the federal ban on funding stem cell research will likely once again be an important issue in 2008, Romney would be a particularly poor choice for the White House. A Republican victor in the 2008 election would owe quite a bit to the Religious Right, making it highly unlikely that any Republican candidate would be better for science than his Democratic challenger.