The Corner

I. Political Motivations

Will writes, “Some ’social conservatives’ . . . insist, simultaneously, that Frist made a gross political blunder and that he sacrificed principles to politics. This train wreck of logic makes one’s head hurt.” What would be contradictory about suggesting that Frist put his political future ahead of principle but that his move is likely to backfire? Surely such phenomena are not unknown in politics?

I myself have not said that Frist took his view of stem-cell funding merely to help himself politically. But I would not go as far as others have done—ABC’s “The Note,” for example—in suggesting that what he did was simply and purely a matter of genuine conviction. An element of political calculation was surely in play here. It’s not necessary to think Frist a cynic to suppose that he would not have done what he did if he thought it would seriously impair his presidential chances. An element of political calculation is even defensible. President Bush is not obligated, for example, to sacrifice his other worthwhile political objectives—including his pro-life objectives—in order to make a futile attempt to ban private-sector stem-cell research.

It might be a good thing for journalists generally to stop assuming politicians’ motives are always low. But—and here I’m thinking more of “the Note” than of Will—we shouldn’t start handing out specific exemptions to a general rule of suspicion for presidential candidates who say things that the press corps likes.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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