Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Oleszek-Cuccinelli Debate: Will Substance Trump Style?

Well, I got home late tonight so I haven’t had time to post on last night’s debate between Janet Oleszek and Ken Cuccinelli, which I did indeed watch. Hat tip to Lowell and Blueweeds for their early and good coverage.

Let’s start by admitting the obvious. Ken Cuccinelli, a trial lawyer by profession, is a better debater than school board member Janet Oleszek. And Ken has considerable charm. In fact, his charm and wit should be registered as lethal weapons.

Further, if you are an ardent pro-life, pro gun, anti-tax conservative, you should definitely vote to return him to the state Senate. He’s been representing you superbly. The problem is he hasn’t been representing the majority of the 37th district so well. Unlike some other districts in Virginia, this is a moderate to progressive area whose residents are mostly pro-choice and would favor some gun control. They also expect services like good schools, adequate public transportation – many of them commute to Washington, DC – and good roads. And they’d be willing to pay for them as long as they are convinced their money is well spent and the state’s funds are properly managed. They don’t want pledges of no new taxes; they want fiscal responsibility that buys them the services they need. They want limited government but they don’t want a pledge of no government and the expectation that they will “go it alone” in providing their kids with quality education, mental health services, public transportation, and good roads.

Meanwhile, Ken, who has provided excellent representation for his pro-life, conservative constituency, doesn’t actually represent the majority of us who are pro-choice in the district.

Kenton Ngo did a spoof a while ago on Cucinnelli’s record, which, while it was very funny, was pretty on target and provided the links to some of the more extreme measures the Cooch has either sponsored or voted for.

This includes SB 315, Abortion performed on child under age 15; penalty. Requires the preservation and testing of fetal tissue for the purpose of determining whether the pregnancy was the result of criminal behavior. Failure of a physician to comply with the requirements is unprofessional conduct and a Class 4 misdemeanor.

HB2797, Constitutional right to enjoyment of Life. Provides that “the right to enjoyment of life” guaranteed by Article 1 of the Constitution of Virginia is vested in each born and preborn human being from the moment of fertilization.

That by the way, was the bill Ken claimed he forgot about or tried to deny during the debate.

But most troubling is Cuccinelli’s support for the Conscience Clause, also known as the Pharmacist’s Conscience Clause.

There has been a movement among the Christian right to encourage pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control pills or the emergency contraceptive pill, known as the Morning After pill, for women even in cases of rape.

This is no quixotic windmill tilting. The following states already have some version of this legislation, making it difficult for women to get prescriptions from their doctors filled. They are:
Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia and South Dakota. Colorado, Maine, Tennessee, and Florida have broad conscience clauses that don't specifically mention pharmacists.

Still another area where Ken is out of the mainstream is support for stem cell research. Although he claims that he is for use of adult stem cells to treat medical conditions, he opposes the use of embryonic stem cells. Ken made the claim that adult stem cell therapy has proven more promising in actual use and is now curing ailments.

That’s true. The therapy is not new or experimental and has been used in treatment for blood cancers like leukemia and the lymphomas. But it’s embryonic stem cells that hold the promise for curing illnesses like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. As this Washington Post story reported:

The letter to the journal focused on David A. Prentice, a scientist with the conservative Family Research Council. Prentice has been an adviser to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) -- a leader in the charge to maintain tight restrictions on the research -- and an "expert source" often cited by opponents of embryonic stem cell research.

Prentice has repeatedly claimed that adult stem cells, which can be retrieved harmlessly from adults, have at least as much medical potential as embryonic cells. He often carries a binder filled with references to scientific papers that he says prove the value of adult stem cells as treatments for at least 65 diseases.

In the letter to Science, however, three researchers went through Prentice's footnoted documentation and concluded that most of his examples are wrong.

"Prentice not only misrepresents existing adult stem cell treatments but also frequently distorts the nature and content of the references he cites," wrote Shane Smith of the Children's Neurobiological Solutions Foundation in Santa Barbara, Calif.; William B. Neaves of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo.; and Steven Teitelbaum of Washington University in St. Louis.
For example, they wrote, a study cited by Prentice as evidence that adult stem cells can help patients with testicular cancer is in fact a study that evaluates methods of isolating adult stem cells.

Similarly, a published report that Prentice cites as evidence that adult stem cells can help patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma does not address the medical value of those cells but rather describes the best way to isolate cells from lymphoma patients and grow them in laboratory dishes, the letter said.

And Prentice's reference to the usefulness of adult stem cells for patients with Sandhoff disease -- a rare nerve disorder -- is "a layperson's statement in a newspaper article," the scientists reported.

All told, the scientists concluded, there are only nine diseases that have been proved to respond to treatment with adult stem cells.

"By promoting the falsehood that adult stem cell treatments are already in general use for 65 diseases and injuries, Prentice and those who repeat his claims mislead laypeople and cruelly deceive patients," the scientists wrote.

Yet that is exactly what Ken Cuccinelli is also promoting. And, yes, it is cruelly deceptive when research into embryonic stem cell research is universally believed by real scientists to hold so much promise.

But if Ken has strong objections to the use of embryonic stem cells, he ought to also do something about the fertility clinics that produce them. Most of the stem cell lines come from discarded embryos that couples have left over after in-vitreo fertilization. Currently, those excess embryos are discarded. Somehow using them to cure people of diseases seems more moral than simply putting them out in the trash.

For all Ken’s razzle dazzle, when it comes to who better represents a moderate to progressive district that is trending blue, Janet is closer to the views of voters in this district and all the charm and lawyerly debate skills doesn’t disguise that fact.

Finally, when all is said and done, this race will be won by the ground game. In local races, voters expect retail politics. So, I would advise Janet not to waste too much time agonizing that her trial lawyer opponent is a better debater. I’d urge her to keep knocking on doors, connecting with voters one-to-one and keep emphasizing her issues. The key to winning this election is going to be who gets out his voters not who is more dazzling in the debate arena. In the end it’s going to come down to substance, not style.


Doug in Mount Vernon said...

Wow, excellent review!!!

You asked that age-old and in this case COMPLETELY spot-on question---style or substance...

While in some cases it may be more fabulous to take style over substance but certainly NOT in this case!

Doug in Mount Vernon

Charles said...

It's rich seeing someone suggest that the case for adult stem cells is too rosy, given that nobody can even come up with a hypothetical case for embryonic stem cell use yet, and yet Kerry/Edwards claimed Christopher Reeves could walk if we just funded it with federal dollars.

But whether you think Embryonic Stem Cells are the savior of the world or not, Janet's claim that Ken opposes ALL stem cell research is simply false.

Loudoun Conservative said...

I'm surprised that you are most disturbed by Cuccinelli's support for conscience clause legislation.

Most Americans support this legislation when they understand it.

It's one thing to be "pro-choice." It's another to force a doctor or pharmicist or nurse to violate their conscience and participate in a procedure to which they have moral objections.

Presumably, you would fight (as would I) for a Muslim nurse's right to wear her headdress on the job. But then you would force her to participate in an abortion that violates her faith?

I know a doctor who will not perform abortions because he believes that they violate the hypocratic oath. Instead, he faithfully provides top quality OBGYN care to thousands of women in the most popular such practice in his area. He frequently provides free or reduced cost care to women who can't afford his fees and he volunteers at the local free clinic. You would force him to violate his conscience or risk what -- a lawsuit? jail? now who wants to put doctors in prison?

That's not very compassionate or very friendly.

For someone who claims to be pro-choice, one would thing that conscience clause legislation would be a given. The woman's choice, the doctor's choice, the pharmacists choice, the nurse's choice -- shouldn't we all get a choice? Unless "pro-choice" is just a euphenism and you are pro-abortion after all...

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

First of all, thank you Doug.

Then Charles, I never said Ken opposes all stem cell research. I think I state pretty clearly that his issues are with embryonic stem cell research. The best scientific opinion is that it holds the most promise for eventual cures. That's why I state that the use of adult stem cell therapy is no longer just experimental. It's standard therapy for some diseases such as the blood cancers. But the real promsise for the future is embryonic stem cell therapy. But it is still experimental. And because the research has been blocked in some of the largest research facilities by government regulation, it has slowed down the experiments. By nature, though, the term experiment means there's work to be done before the benefit might be realized. Right now that work is being slowed so we don't know the cures that may come or the progress we may make.

And as for the conscience clause, LC, it's not those few doctors or nurses who don't wish to perform abortions that concern me, it's the pharmacists who refuse to sell birth control prescriptions.

I make a distinction between abortion and contraception which too many on the right fail to make. They want to claim that birth control pills are abortofacients. Not true. The pill works by preventing the egg from implanting in the womb, creating a hostile environment in the womb for it to develop, and by preventing fertilization in the first place.

There's a vast difference between preventing pregnancy and abortion. You can't defend a life that hasn't even begun.

Most Americans, when the real purpose behind conscience clause is explained, actually oppose it.

I support a woman's right to wear a head scarf and a doctor's right to not perform an abortion, though I personally would disagree with both those choices. But I strongly would oppose their attempting to block a woman from using birth control. That's no longer their personal morality. And it's not about saving a life. It's simply their attempt to force their morality on somebody else. And America's long tradition of respecting privacy rights, especially between a doctor and patient, and our long tradition of separation of church and state, would make my position on this the mainstream one.

In the U.S., we shouldn't be invading a woman's privacy and a pharmacist shouldn't be deciding which medical doctor's prescriptions deserve to be filled.