It was, I believe, Rep. Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, who first made the excellent, bitter, and terribly unfair joke about Ronald Reagan: that he believed in a right to life that begins at conception and ends at birth. This joke has been adapted for use against various Republican politicians ever since. In the case of President George W. Bush, though, it appears to be literally true.
Bush, as we know, believes deeply and earnestly that human life begins at conception. Even tiny embryos composed of half a dozen microscopic cells, he thinks, have the same right to life as you and I. That is why he cannot bring himself to allow federal funding for new stem-cell research, or even for other projects in labs where stem-cell research is going on. Even though these embryos are obtained from fertility clinics where they would otherwise be destroyed anyway, and even though he appears to have no objection to the fertility clinics themselves, where these same embryos are manufactured and destroyed by the thousands, the much smaller number of embryos needed and destroyed in the process of developing cures for diseases like Parkinson's are, in effect, tiny little children whose use in this way constitutes killing a human being and therefore is intolerable.
But President Bush does not believe that the deaths of all little children as a result of U.S. policy are, in effect, murder. He thinks that some are, while very unfortunate, also inevitable and essential.
You know who I mean. Close to 50,000 Iraqi civilians have died so far as a direct result of our invasion and occupation of their country, in order to liberate them. The numbers are actually increasing as the country slides into chaos: more than 6,500 in July and August alone. These numbers are from reliable sources and are not seriously contested. They include many who were tortured and then killed, along with others blown up less personally by car bombs and suicide bombers. The number does not include the hundreds of thousands who have died prematurely as a result of a decade and a half of war and embargos imposed on the Iraqi economy. Nor does it include soldiers on both sides, most of whom are innocent, too. Last week the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan surpassed the number of people who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.