The story all over the news today is about how Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who was maneuvered into his current position with a big assist from the White House in December 2002, and who has since faithfully served as the President's lapdog (the lapdog of a mouthpiece who was selected by five judges after losing an election-- how low can you go?), reversed his course and said he will support a pending bill in the Senate to allow Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
Most of the speculation as to why, has centered quite correctly on Sen. Frist's all-but-official White House ambitions for 2008.
Certainly, he does gain some obvious benefits from the switch. He puts himself in line with the feelings of an overwhelming majority of Americans, who support such research because of the potential for cures it carries for everything from spinal cord injuries to Alzheimer's. He will be able to point to this as evidence that he is his 'own man' and not a lackey of a President who has approval ratings in the mid forty percent range and heading south, and who has already achieved 'lame duck' status just six months into his second term.
Also, this does carry some equally obvious risks. He damages his standing with many 'pro-life' conservatives in his own party, a group which, although they are way out of tune with the majority of Americans, dominate Republican primaries. Some people have speculated that he figures that he will still have plenty of time to burnish his pro-life credentials on issues ranging from abortion to euthanasia and is banking that enough of them will forgive him his sins before 2008. Other analysts made the laughable claim that he is a 'man of character' who was willing to accept the fallout in 2008 'to do what he knows, as a former physician, is the right thing.' Of course, given his record on issues relating to healthcare, the thought that he is suddenly 'doing the right thing, come hell or high water,' is ridiculous.
No, I see it another way. Bill Frist is a desperate man. There is nothing that will doom his candidacy faster than if he is seen as weak and ineffective. Yet, that is exactly what he has been. Just in the past couple of months, after he looked like a zealot on the Schiavo case but ultimately could not do anything to back up his tough talk, he has met with failure after failure. it was his job to push John Bolton through the Senate. He failed, and even after being given more time by the President, he failed again. Now President Bush will make a recess appointment, reminding people again of Mr. Frist's failure. Then came the standoff on the 'nuclear option' in which he made arrangement to have bunks delivered to the Senate for an all night session, and when he himself was personally prepared to pull the trigger, and then Sen. McCain (one of his main rivals in the 2008 Republican primaries) met with a group of moderates and worked out a compromise that put the nuclear option back on the shelf, and Sen. Frist was handed a copy of the agreement while they were on their way to the press room.
So now, he was in the position of being the administration's point man on stem cell research, another area where he would be isolated from the opinions of a great majority of Americans, and with the prospect of another losing vote ahead of him (maybe two, because if the President vetoed the bill, which is expected, then it is questionable that Frist could even prevent the veto from being overridden.) So what did this 'man of character' do? Did he go down with the ship? No, this leader in the Senate, this 'man of character' did what he had to do. He abandoned the ship and may as well have yelled, 'every man for himself.' Even more than he needs the votes of conservatives in the future, he needs a win now, and if he has to turn around and run like the wind to catch a moving bandwagon he can jump on, then he will do it.
And Bill Frist wants to run for the Presidency of the United States. Lord Help Us.