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A Target Tongue

I am not anti-gun, I’m pro-knife, declared Molly Ivins, extolling the knife’s ability to increase physical fitness: You have to catch up with someone in order to stab him. A straight shooter (despite her professed choice of weapons) with accurate aim, Ivins could also write tongue-in-cheek, employ comic surprise or revel in the absurd to catch a reader’s attention. As she put it, I believe in practicing prudence at least once every two or three years. Ivins, the Texan author and nationally syndicated columnist who died Jan. 31 at age 62, honed her humor and wit to make serious points on government and citizenship. If, as she put it, democracy requires a certain relish for confusion, it was a relish she had.

Ivins could be a formidable foe, as when she dismissed Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid because of the senator’s weak stand on the Iraq war, and when she summed up in a word, Bush-whacked, her view of the current administration. Though Ivins’s formulations could cut, her enterprise was constructive, wise and hopeful. Cynics always sound smarter than optimists, she explained, because they have so much evidence on their side.

A secular prophet giving wake-up calls to the nation, Ivins saw political participation as essential. Politics is not a picture on a wall or a television sitcom that you can decide you don’t much care for, she declared. Stunned to realize that so few people get the connection between their lives and what the bozos do in Washington and our state capitols, Ivins saw in that insight her vocation to make the links clear. There’s far too much unthinking respect given to authority, she explained; What you need is sustained outrage. She had that too.

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Last year, Ivins wrote: War brings out the patriotic bullies. In World War I, they went around kicking dachshunds on the grounds that dachshunds were German dogs.’ They did not, however, go around kicking German shepherds. The minute someone impugns your patriotism for opposing this war, turn on them like a snarling dog and explain what loving your country really means.

Stem Cell Update

President Bush opposes federal funding of embryonic stem cell research because derivation of the cells destroys the embryos. Defenders of this research argue that it may lead to therapy for devastating diseases like Parkinson’s or types of cancer. So far, however, no such treatments have been developed.

Last month, people opposed to harvesting embryos for stem cell research were encouraged by scientific advances on one level but lost political ground on another. The Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., reported on Jan. 7 that cells easily and harmlessly derived from the amniotic fluid of pregnant women have much the same potential for growing into tissues that could be used for medical treatments as do embryonic stem cells. This is wonderful news, said Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of pro-life programs for the U.S. Catholic Conference. It doesn’t require harming anyone or destroying life at any stage.

On Jan. 11, however, the House voted 253 to 174 to increase federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. A similar bill was expected to pass the Senate. Mr. Bush has promised to veto this bill when it comes to his desk, and its supporters in Congress concede they do not have enough votes to override a veto. The columnist Charles Krauthammer, himself a physician, commented that Mr. Bush’s veto may turn out to have held the line against the wanton trampling of the human embryo just long enough for a morally neutral alternative to emerge.

The Senate Non-Debate

Four years ago, on Feb. 12, 2003, when the Bush administration was poised to invade Iraq, Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, challenged his colleagues to debate the implications of such an invasion. Why was the Senate chamber silent, ominously, dreadfully silent, at a time when the nation was about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine.... The doctrine of pre-emptionthe idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future. Senator Byrd had sharp words of criticism for the way the administration dealt with other nations, including traditional allies, calling heads of state pygmies, labeling whole countries as evil, denigrating powerful European allies as irrelevant. Dismissing the value of diplomacy was not in the national interest, Senator Byrd insisted, since we cannot fight a global war on terrorism alone. Why was the Senate hauntingly silent on the eve of the pre-emptive invasion? In a painfully prescient comment, Senator Byrd noted that we hear little about the aftermath of war in Iraq.

Four years later, at a critical turning point in the war in Iraq, the Senate appears locked in paralysis over competing resolutions on the war that will be nonbinding. The serious debate about the future of Iraq that Senator Byrd called for still has not taken place. Is the nation once again heading toward disaster by default?

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