But, apart from the merits of the issue, I am impressed with Senator Bill Frist's announcement that, contrary to the position of the President who threatens a veto, he supports a House bill which would expand the numbers of embryonic stem cells that could be used in research. Frist, a physician who is pro-life, has thus aligned himself with other Republican senators like Orrin Hatch and Arlen Specter, who seem intent on voting in favor of the House bill or some variation of it.
Many will question Frist's motives, saying that his break with President Bush is all about the Tennessee senator's run for the presidency in 2008. That may be. But if so, it's a calculation apt to backfire on him. The voters in Republican primaries and caucuses tend to be far more conservative than the country as a whole. Frist's position on this issue will be seen by many of these voters as liberal or centrist, lessening the prospect of their voting for him, even if his shift could help him in a general election contest. Should he fail to win the nomination, that will be a moot point.
But there could be another explanation for Frist's change of heart. Hugh Hewitt puts it this way:
Senator Frist's position on stem cell research hurts him with the evangelical base he was said by the left to be playing to throughout the past year and especially during the Schiavo tragedy. Frist is hardly a frontrunner in need of a Sister Souljah moment. Perhaps he is what is so rare for the left to understand: A man of principle who reasons to positions and then defends them.Ignoring Hugh's obligatory polemic against liberals, he nonetheless makes a good point: Frist may have arrived at his change of heart by reasoning his way there. Given that his prospects for receiving the Republican nomination for President may have been dealt a fatal blow by his shift and because, as Senate majority leader he knows how to count, it seems likely that Frist really believes this is the right course, irrespective of the political costs to him.
Whether he's right or wrong, I think he deserves credit for trying to do the right thing.