I’m not talking about Michael J. Fox’s television ad for Claire McCaskill. I’m talking about rightie reaction to it.

Apparently embryonic stem cell research is a big issue in the McCaskill-Talent senatorial campaign in Missouri. The Democrat, McCaskill, is fer it, and the Republican, Talent, is agin’ it. Sam Hananel of Forbes describes the ad made by Fox:

His body visibly wracked by tremors, actor Michael J. Fox speaks out for Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill in a television ad that promotes her support for embryonic stem cell research.

“As you might know I care deeply about stem cell research,” says 45-year-old actor, who has struggled with Parkinson’s disease for more than a decade. “In Missouri you can elect Claire McCaskill, who shares my hope for cures.”

McCaskill has made support for the research a key part of her campaign to unseat Sen. Jim Talent. The Republican incumbent opposes the research as unethical, saying it destroys human embryos.

The new ad debuted prominently Saturday night during Game 1 of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers and will continue airing statewide this week, a campaign spokeswoman said.

I bet everybody in the state saw it, then.

Debate over stem cell research looms large in the state, where voters are considering a ballot measure that would amend the state constitution to protect all federally allowed forms of the research, including embryonic stem cell research.

“Unfortunately, Senator Jim Talent opposes expanding stem cell research,” Fox says in the 30-second spot. “Senator Talent even wanted to criminalize the science that gives us a chance for hope.”

Rightie reaction? John Amato has an audio of Rush Limbaugh accusing Fox of faking his symptoms. “He is an actor, after all,” says Rush. (Rush is from a very wealthy and influential southeast Missouri family.)

Dean Barnett, writing at Hugh Hewitt’s blog, disgusts me just as much. I have annotated the quote with footnotes.

By way of response, let me first say that I think almost any kind of ad in support of a political campaign is fair game. If a candidate goes too far, the public will punish him or her. So while I find the Michael J. Fox ad crass, tasteless, [1] exploitative and absurd, I fully support Claire McCaskill’s right to shoot herself in the foot. [2]

The most distasteful aspect of the ad is the way it exploits Michael J. Fox’s physical difficulties. [3] Fox is an actor, and clearly knew what he was doing when he signed up for the spot – no victim points for him for having been manipulated by the McCaskill campaign.[4] The ad’s aim is to make us feel so bad about Fox’s condition that logical debate is therefore precluded. [5] You either agree with Fox, or you sadistically endorse his further suffering as Fox accuses Jim Talent of doing.

This is demagoguery analogous to the pernicious and pathetic chickenhawk argument. The whole “chickenhawk” logic is that only people who have served in the military are entitled to have an opinion on military matters. Thus, the ideas of non-veterans don’t warrant a hearing and thus don’t need rebutting.[6]

While Michael J. Fox (like me) has some skin in the stem cell game that most people don’t, that doesn’t give him any special appreciation of the moral issues involved with embryonic stem cell research. Sick people may want cures and treatments more than the healthy population, but that doesn’t make them/us experts on morality. [7]

My comments:

[1] I’m sorry that Dean Barnett takes offense at the sight of other peoples’ suffering. I’m sure that in Dean Barnett’s perfect world, sick and handicapped people would be kept hidden away so the sight of them does not upset healthy people.

[2] On the other hand, crass remarks about Michael J. Fox’s infirmities are certain to rally voters to the Republican cause.

[3] Not only are physical infirmities tasteless; they also confer an unfair advantage.

[4] Fox was “manipulated” by McCaskill? Apparently people with disabilities have lost the right to be free agents.

[5] Ooo, “logical” debate! I wrote about “logical” morality yesterday. I’ll come back to it again in a minute.

[6] A stirring argument. Too bad that Burnett’s “chickenhawk” is a straw bird.

[7] Actually, I’d say the Fox ad is less an argument for morality than a test of morality. If you see the ad and feel compassion for Fox, you pass. If you whine about how tasteless, unfair, exploitative, or illogical it is, you flunk.

Mr. Barnett, for reasons argued here, flunks.

The Anchoress claims Fox is fighting for “bad science.” I’ve already explained here and here that it’s righties like the Anchoress who lie through their teeth about the science. Sister Toldjah, no lightweight in the idiot department, compares the ad to race baiting. (Go ahead and pause to ponder that one, if you need to.)

At NRO, Kathryn Jean Lopez ladles the lies on thick and heavy by claiming the issue is about cloning. She links to this anti-science web site that says —

When you see Amendment 2 at your polling place, you will be asked to decide whether to “ban human cloning or attempted cloning.” Sounds good so far, right? Who’s in favor of human cloning anyway?

But the 2,100-word Constitutional Amendment—which you won’t see on election day—actually creates legal protection for human cloning. Hard to believe? It’s true. Amendment 2 only outlaws reproductive cloning, which no one in Missouri (or anywhere else on earth) is doing.

Meanwhile, it protects anyone who wants to clone human beings for science experiments. Amendment 2 glosses over the issue of lab-created human life with complicated phrases like “Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer.” But cloning is cloning, and Amendment 2 would put this ethically questionable practice beyond the reach of state law.

And the Big Lie is, of course, that non-reproductive cloning, also called “therapeutic” cloning, does not clone “human beings.” In therapeutic cloning the cloned cells do not develop into an embryo but instead are used only to develop stem cells. A stem cell is no more a “being” than a toenail.

The fact is that righties are just plain on the wrong side of the embryonic stem cell issue. They’re on the wrong side of it both morally and scientifically. Whine all they like, that’s not going to change. I’m afraid they’ll be whining for a while.

BTW, McCaskill is my adopted Senate candidate. Please help fight the forces of darkness and donate a buck or two by clicking here.

Update: See Jonathan Cohn, who interviews William J. Weiner M.D., professor and chairman of the department of neurology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and director of the Parkinson’s clinic there. Dr. Weiner said:

What you are seeing on the video is side effects of the medication. He has to take that medication to sit there and talk to you like that. … He’s not over-dramatizing. … [Limbaugh] is revealing his ignorance of Parkinson’s disease, because people with Parkinson’s don’t look like that at all when they’re not taking their medication. They look stiff, and frozen, and don’t move at all. … People with Parkinson’s, when they’ve had the disease for awhile, are in this bind, where if they don’t take any medication, they can be stiff and hardly able to talk. And if they do take their medication, so they can talk, they get all of this movement, like what you see in the ad.

Hat tip John Amato.

Update update: This is rude.

18 thoughts on “Shameless

  1. Ben, certainly the sight of disability and suffering causes discomfort. The moral challenge is not to run away from the discomfort but to face it and respond to it compassionately.

    This reminds me of the story of the Four Passing Sights, but I’m not going to tell that story now because Olbermann is on. You can read about it here.

  2. Rush’s “After all, he’s an actor” comment is absolutely typical of his handicap, which is– how did Joe Klein put it?– that he’s the product of the love scene in Deliverance.

  3. Didn’t a flock of right-wing nutjobs just take liberals to task for not being civil in their discourse?

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  5. It was painful to watch the Michael J. Fox ad for McCaskill, but mostly, I just felt awe at his great spirit. He gives new meaning to the phrase, ‘roll with the punches’. I hope McCaskill wins!!!

  6. Thanks for the factual comments of the doc re: the actual symptoms of unmedicated patients. Rush speaking from ignorance is the ultimate dog-bites-man story.

  7. One wonders when the legions of “Bible-believing” Christians who listen to Rush, et all, but who also are presumably familiar with stories of “what would Jesus do” involving lepers and Samaritans, are going to wake up and scream.

  8. I suppose one could complain (I would if I were Jim Talent) that the point of the add is to unduly sway (i.e., manipulate) the viewer’s feelings. But then a whole lot of political advertizing does that: why else show pictures of candidates with adoring & adorable families?

    But the point of stem-cell research is its potential to address afflictions like Parkinson’s: so helping us visualize what that means in the case of a well-known, popular personality is indeed part of the “logic” of the debate.

    Real people suffer. Jim Talent has to explain why in principle he wants to prevent research that might alleviate some of that suffering, on behalf of microscopic human cells. There may indeed be an argument to be made, but the reality of the suffering is part of the calculus.

    Reminds one of the deliberate ignoring of human suffering that resulted (and still results) from a certain unjust, trumped-up war.

  9. Well, my comment about the opposition to stem cell research in the MO senatorial race is that God in His wisdom chooses to destroy 30-40% of all human embryos. If those opposing such research only could internalize this, I guess they’d have to become Satanists (not sure why, but what else do they have?)

  10. I believe they trotted out Dean Barnett to write this hit piece on Michael J. Fox because he too has a chronic, incurable disease, Cystic Fibrosis.

    It’s fine for Dean to dismiss embryonic stem cell research as useless, because my understanding is that it is useless as far as a cure for Cystic Fibrosis, which is a genetically transmitted disease, is concerned. Most of the research for CF now focusses on genetic therapy, which is, of course not illegal.

    I think you may see the attacks on the Fox ad taper off, as Talent has now started attacking McCaskill on other (equally specious) grounds. I think the right wing realized they may have gone a bit too far. I believe even the egregiously smarmy Rush Limbaugh may be backing off on this. It may have been too much even for some dittoheads. Of course, there are many for whom the depths are their natural habitat, and they will continue to happily wallow there.

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