George Orwell, Meet Harry and Louise

Date: 04/25/2002

Harry and Louise Return
The couple is back and this time they want America to know that cloning isn’t really cloning.
by William Kristol
From today’s “Daily Standard” posted at

WHEN IS A CLONE not a clone, and an embryo not an embryo? When the biotech lobby wants to persuade Americans that creating a cloned embryo and then destroying it for the sake of medical experimentation should be allowed.

Last night, on TV’s fictional “West Wing,” the fictional “Harry and Louise”–stars of the famous ads against the Clinton health care plan–returned to the small screen. The new Harry and Louise ads are sponsored by CuresNow, a Hollywood-based group opposed to a ban on cloning. The ads resolutely refuse to acknowledge that the argument is about the status of cloned embryos: “What’s with this stem cell research debate?” asks Harry. The real answer, of course, is that there’s no debate about adult stem cell research (except the refusal of cloning and embryonic stem cell enthusiasts to acknowledge how promising adult stem cell research seems to be). What’s more, there’s no current debate about federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, a question at least temporarily resolved by the president’s decision last August. The current legislative debate is about whether or not to allow the creation of cloned embryos for medical research. But “embryo” is a word you won’t find in the TV ads.

You will find the word “cloning:” Harry asks, “Is it cloning?”, and Louise answers, “Nooo . . . uses an unfertilized egg and a skin cell.” But that is cloning, and everyone knows it is, and, until this latest outburst of dishonesty, everyone from the National Institutes of Health Human Embryo Research Panel to the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (both in the Clinton Administration) acknowledged that what we are talking about is the cloning of human embryo.

Earlier this year, the New Scientist, which probably supports embryonic cloning, had the decency to reject the “Orwellian attempt” to “muddy the waters” by refusing “to call a clone a clone.” Orwell is so much cited in this context that one worries about what has been called “the degrading effects of the excessive familiarity which breed contempt and of misuse which breeds disgust.” But the “weight and elevation” of Orwell’s writing make him immune to these effects. So I will quote the famous two sentences in “Politics and the English Language”: “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. . . . Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.”

George Orwell, meet Harry and Louise.

William Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard
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