Olbermann: Bush Using 'Double Speak' & Appeasing 'Radical Right' on Stem Cells

On Wednesday's Countdown show, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann characterized President Bush's veto of a bill to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research as a "hard stance" and a "setback for stem cell research" as the President was "honking off" and "turning his back on" federal funding proponents "despite pleas from his own party." He also portrayed Bush's decision as "forget science, forget patients." Before the words "Appeasing the Base" were displayed on the monitor behind him, Olbermann employed a standard liberal attack accusing the "radical right" of inconsistency for being both anti-abortion and pro-death penalty, charging that "there are no straight lines in the radical right's attitude towards life." The Countdown host also sympathetically declared that Democrats were "confounded by" Bush's "scientific double speak," while he mocked Bush as "confounded by exactly which rights are endowed by the Creator in the Declaration of Independence." (Transcript follows)

After mentioning the segment in the opening teaser, Olbermann gave four additional plugs, during which he used such loaded language as "despite pleas from his own party," as he called the veto a "hard stance" and "a setback for stem cell research." In one plug, he portrayed Bush as ignoring "science" and "patients" while "turning his back on members of his own party." Olbermann: "Forget scientists, forget patients. President Bush turns his back on members of his own party, vetoing more federal funds for stem cell research. Could there be lasting political damage from that decision?"

Olbermann began the segment by mocking the logic of the "radical right" being both anti-abortion and pro-death penalty. The Countdown host, who neglected to mention that conservatives support federal funding of research that uses adult stem cells, shook his head in disapproval after he relayed the refusal of many conservatives to change their minds on embryonic stem cells in spite of Ronald Reagan's illness: "If the shortest distance between two points is still a straight line, and we only have the scientists' word for that, there are no straight lines in the radical right's attitude towards life. Anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, against converting stem cells that would otherwise be thrown away that might have been used to alleviate the suffering of one of their political patron saints, Ronald Reagan."

Accusing conservatives of "waving the democracy banner," the Countdown host cited unspecified polls that "suggest support as high as 72 percent for that which President Bush vetoed today." Before showing clips of President Bush and Democratic Senator Charles Schumer discussing the veto, while the words "Political Science" were displayed at the bottom of the screen, Olbermann sympathetically portrayed Democrats as "confounded" by Bush's "scientific double speak," and mocked Bush as "confounded" in his understanding of the Declaration of Independence: "Democrats confounded by the scientific double speak. Mr. Bush appearing to be confounded by exactly which rights are endowed by the Creator in the Declaration of Independence."

After bringing aboard Dana Milbank of the Washington Post to further discuss the issue, Olbermann's first question portrayed Bush as "honking off" Republicans who support the expansion of federal funding: "What's the benefit here for the President? If stem cell research is not even really a wedge issue, if three-quarters or more of the American public is supporting research like this, Nancy Reagan supports it, Senator Orrin Hatch supports it, 50 House Republicans, what's the upside of honking all of them off?"

Olbermann also painted other bills that were signed by the President, such as one that "banned aborting an implanted embryo just to get the stem cells," as "bordering not merely on firing up the base, but almost on hysteria." Olbermann: "Could they make some mileage out of the two things that the President did sign today? One of these bills banned aborting an implanted embryo just to get the stem cells, which is something apparently no scientist is talking about doing. I mean, there might be a few murderers and ghouls out there, but those things seem to be bordering not merely on firing up the base, but almost on hysteria."

Milbank contended that the other bills were a "smokescreen," and, in discussing the political implications of embryonic stem cell policy for the midterm elections, Milbank declared the issue "a sleeper issue" that is "the same thing that gay marriage really was for the Republicans."

Below is a complete transcript of the segment from the Wednesday July 19 Countdown show, including the teaser and plugs for the segment, with critical portions in bold:

Keith Olbermann, in opening teaser: "And in Washington, the veto hits over the objections of public opinion and everyone from Nancy Reagan to Orrin Hatch. Mr. Bush calls the stem cell research initiative 'the taking of innocent human life.'"

Olbermann, before commercial break, 8:15 p.m.: "And the big political headline here, the President's first veto ever. Despite pleas from his own party, Mr. Bush blocks the expansion of federal spending on stem cell research. Did he just hand the Democrats a campaign platform?"

Olbermann, before commercial break, 8:29 p.m.: "Forget scientists, forget patients. President Bush turns his back on members of his own party, vetoing more federal funds for stem cell research. Could there be lasting political damage from that decision? The Washington Post's Dana Milbank joins us for that."

Olbermann, before commercial break, 8:38 p.m.: "Also here, a setback for stem cell research. The President uses his veto pen for the first time. He will not do it on camera, by the way. Will it also be a setback, though, for Republicans in the polls in four months time?"...

Olbermann, during commercial break, 8:40 p.m.: "President Bush issues his first veto: No expansion of federal funds for stem cell research. Could the President's hard stance come at a steep political price?"

Olbermann, introducing the segment: "If the shortest distance between two points is still a straight line, and we only have the scientists' word for that, there are no straight lines in the radical right's attitude towards life. Anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, against converting stem cells that would otherwise be thrown away that might have been used to alleviate the suffering of one of their political patron saints, Ronald Reagan. Our number two story in the Countdown, oh, and waving the democracy banner whenever possible while ignoring what opinion polls suggest is support as high as 72 percent for that which President Bush vetoed today. You will not actually be seeing the veto here. Mr. Bush this afternoon debuting the veto pen against a bill that would have expanded federal funding of embryonic stem cell research on unused fertility clinic embryos. Cameras only allowed in as he surrounded himself with young children who, as embryos, had been donated to childless couples. The subtle touch always does best. What did get his signature today, two far less controversial stem cell-related bills, some might call them meaningless, one prohibiting something that no serious scientist is even proposing. Democrats confounded by the scientific double speak. Mr. Bush appearing to be confounded by exactly which rights are endowed by the Creator in the Declaration of Independence."

George W. Bush: "America was founded on the principle that we are all created equal and endowed by our creator with the right to life. We can advance the cause of science while upholding this founding promise. We can harness the promise of technology without becoming slaves to technology. And we can ensure that science serves the cause of humanity instead of the other way around."

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY): "It's unfortunate that the President has chosen as his first veto this bill and rob so many people of hope, hope that there would be a cure for a multitude of diseases. It's confounding that this is the place where the President would choose his first veto."

Olbermann: "Let's call in our own Dana Milbank, of course the national political reporter of the Washington Post. Good evening, Dana."

Dana Milbank, Washington Post: "Good evening, Keith."

Olbermann: "What's the benefit here for the President? If stem cell research is not even really a wedge issue, if three-quarters or more of the American public is supporting research like this, Nancy Reagan supports it, Senator Orrin Hatch supports it, 50 House Republicans, what's the upside of honking all of them off?"

Milbank: "It's not clear that the President's been acting in his own best interests all week, you know, in a week when he gives a massage to the German chancellor and has some unfortunate vulgarities to share with the British prime minister. Here there is a calculation, and that is that it'll be a low turnout election in the midterms in November, and once again, I think we've said it 100 times on this show, it's all about the base. If you make your base happy, they'll come out and vote for you. And when you're at 35 percent in the polls, all you've got is the base. So it wasn't actually that hard a political calculation even if it turns off two-thirds to three-quarters of the public."

Olbermann: "But should the Democrats, considering political calculus here, should they thank Mr. Bush for signing the veto today because with that base of popular support for it, could cell research, could the stem cell issue be something on which the Democrats could try to run in the fall?"

Milbank: "You better believe it. It's the same thing that gay marriage really was for the Republicans, a sleeper issue last time around that really brought their people out. This has the potential to do that. It's a wedge issue. It's part of the culture wars, but this a rare one, if not the only one that actually benefits the Democrats. It's going to be on the ballot in Missouri where Jim Talent, a Senator, voted on Bush's side of this issue. He may face some trouble for that, George Allen in Virginia, a couple of other key races. So it's, for Democrats it's quite an exciting thing to actually have a cultural issue that is to their advantage."

Olbermann: "Could they make some mileage out of the two things that the President did sign today? One of these bills banned aborting an implanted embryo just to get the stem cells, which is something apparently no scientist is talking about doing. I mean, there might be a few murderers and ghouls out there, but those things seem to be bordering not merely on firing up the base, but almost on hysteria."

Milbank: "Well, sure. I mean, the technical legislative term is 'smokescreen.' But I don't think people were making much of a secret about that. There was nothing offensive about approving them. A lot of this was about trying to regain some of the advantage that was lost in vetoing. That's why the President had all these children there, the adopted embryos called snowflakes. The fact of the matter is there's, you know, 400,000 of these discarded embryos. They've managed to adopt 130 of them. Wonderful thing, but it doesn't really solve the problem, but it helps to blunt the impact against the President."

Olbermann: "And the President was left trying to shout them down, too, which was an interesting staging issue. But last thing here, funding stem cell research one of the few things Congress managed to get done, fewer than 16 weeks until election day. Congress doing anything other than political posturing, anything at all?"

Milbank: "Sixteen weeks to election day, by my account, there are 16 actual days in which the House of Representatives will be voting the entire rest of the year, and it's only July. Sure, we did the Pledge of Allegiance this week. The House voted on the gay marriage amendment even though the Senate had already killed it, but we have nothing but good posturing in the Congress of the United States."

Olbermann: "Well, good posture is always very important, as you know, and we're going to have that pro-sunshine bill that comes out later in the week. Dana Milbank of MSNBC and the Washington Post, of course, as always, Dana, great thanks."

Milbank: "Thanks, Keith."