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Obama Punts Again on Science/Medicine


One of the exciting things about the Obama administration is the promise that decisions regarding science and medicine will be based on scientific study, rather than fundamentalist ideology. 

ObamaTo great fanfare, the administration announced that it was changing President Bush’s policies regarding stem cells.  As CNN reported, "President Obama signed an executive order Monday repealing a Bush-era policy that limited federal tax dollars for embryonic stem cell research."  But then came a new set of rules limiting research to excess fertility clinic embryos.  A N.Y. Times editorial explained that this is a problem – it could slow down potentially valuable stem cell work. "Such requirements… could rule out research on lines derived in the past under less stringent codes, including many created at leading universities or even those approved under Mr. Bush."  Obama’s policy rules out federal support for therapeutic cloning – a practice he championed during his campaign.  NY Times: "The guidelines rule out supporting work on stem cell lines that might be derived from embryos created in the lab to genetically match patients with specific illnesses, such as diabetes or Parkinson’s disease."  The title of a different NY Times article helps us to decode Obamian politics: "Obama Is Leaving Some Stem Cell Issues to Congress."

ObamaNow, on another important medical issue, the President is kicking the ball over to Congress, and this time he’s just kicking it sideways.  After advocating the repeal of a ban on federal funding for anti-AIDS programs that supply clean needles to drug users, Obama has submitted a budget for 2009-10 that maintains the prohibition against needle exchange. 

But here is where the scenario gets knotty – where policy gets into the strange "hide the ball" strategies that "liberals" can’t seem to resist. You see, Obama’s director of the White Office of National Drug Control Policy is pro-needle exchange. And his candidate to run the FDA, Margaret Hamburg, actually started NYC’s first needle-exchange program, as health commissioner. Now, here is the strange loop, as quoted from an article in today’s SF Chronicle: "The White House issued a statement Friday by Jeffrey Crowley, director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, saying Obama ‘is looking forward to working with Congress and the American people to build support for this change, and his administration is committed to moving forward to address the federal ban on syringe exchange programs as a part of a national HIV/AIDS strategy.’… Crowley did not say why the budget continued the funding ban."

See, he’d love to change this but what can he do? He’s only president.  At what point does caution, strategy and the spirit of compromise turn into chickenshit?  For me, with this move, the administration has reached that point.

My view on this may seem a bit odd to various dissident types who feel the president achieved chickenshit many weeks before.  But I can understand how hard it must be to change the big stuff.  When it comes to kleptocratic bankers and lending institutions; the crybaby collective emotional intelligence that we call "Wall Street’"; and the National Security establishment – I have no doubt that any of those power centers could sink Obama’s administration out of the gate.

But needle exchange?  


Obama’s excess of caution threatens to turn him into another Clinton – a charismatic and intelligent caretaker president who changes nothing.  He seems like one cool guy… but why does he have to keep sweating the small stuff?

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