Congressman Alex P. Keaton (R-OH) on stem cell research
Sometimes I like to get back to the Columbus suburbs to rub shoulders with the people who sent me to Washington. It’s my job, after all, and if I don’t listen to them, they can hardly be blamed for tossing me out. I’ve held my seat since I was swept to power in the Revolution of 1994, and while I’m pretty safe thanks to a clever gerrymander on the part of Governor Taft, I don’t want to lose touch.
My constituents voted for me, Representative Alex P. Keaton (R-OH) and by extension voted for President Bush’s tax cuts, for bringing the War on Terror to the terrorists in Iraq, for deregulation of the petroleum industry and for the consolidation of media companies. I listen to them. One of my constituents is my father, who works for the local PBS station. Dad and I don’t agree on much. I remember we stopped talking for a couple of years after I voted to jettison safeguards blocking consolidation of media ownership, but that’s Dad for you—always fussing about the little guy, even when the little guy’s stock portfolio is in jeopardy. Dad uses FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s name like a swear word these days. It’s kind of cute.
Dad and I made up last Christmas, and I’ll call him from the Hart Office Building now and again, just to see how he’s doing. We try to avoid talking about my job, because what I do just makes him mad. That it’s the people’s business doesn’t seem to calm him down. But we did manage to agree on one topic—stem cell research. I’ll be honest: I’ve never really given it much thought. Whenever Newt or Hammer or Denny would drop by my office to talk about an upcoming vote on the matter, I’d just do what they wanted, which was always to oppose it. It’s a pet issue of the megachurches, you see, and the health of the Republican Party depends on those megachurches and the voters they supply. I’ve never personally met James Dobson or Jerry Falwell, but I’m sure we’d get along. (Rod Parsley did contribute to my campaign, and we had dinner a couple of times, but I’m not exactly in his pocket, you understand.)
Stem cell research, though, is a good idea, and it could cure a lot of diseases. So I’m for it. If you check my voting record, you’ll see that I’ve never voted for it, and I probably never will. But that doesn’t mean I oppose it. It’s just that, as an elected United States Representative from the 19th District of Ohio, I have to do the will of the people who elected me, so I have no choice but to vote their convictions instead of mine. I’m morally bound. I’m more of a fiscal conservative than a social conservative, anyway.
Voting is over for the 109th Congress. I’m sure I’ll get reëlected to the 110th, but I won’t change my position. I’m committed to delivering tax cuts and rollbacks of social programs to the America people—and above all to the people of the 19th District of Ohio—and I can’t do that without the support of the social conservatives, and the social conservatives want opposition to stem cell research, so what can I do? If I want to get my agenda done, I have to help them with theirs. That’s politics, after all. And that’s how I do the people’s business.
I’ve been asked by supporters of stem cell research, “Congressman Keaton, how would you feel if you came down with Hodgkin’s or Parkinson’s or some terrible disease that could possibly be cured by stem cell research?” The answer is, of course, I’d be crestfallen. Who wants a disease like that? Certainly no one deserves to get those diseases. But if the people don’t want stem cell research to be encouraged by the government, what can I do? I have to do what they ask me to. While my personal convictions may skew one way, I have to vote the other.
If you really wanted to put me in a box, I’d say you could call me fiscally conservative but socially moderate. So don’t judge me harshly on this issue; I think the same way a lot of you do. I just can’t vote that way. But I still support the idea of research, if not its legality or its funding.
And by the way: if you ever get Parkinson’s, don’t ever go on TV to show off your condition like that one actor did recently. People shouldn’t have to see that. It’s undignified.