Winner Takes All

As we go to press, voters are electing a new Congress, a third of the Senate, and deciding countless state and local races. Also on ballots is a bewildering menu of referendums and amendments to state constitutions. Many of these measures are worrying symptoms of our partisan, winner-take-all political culture.

A number of amendments to state constitutions would ban same-sex marriage. In Missouri, a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution would make so-called therapeutic cloning, which involves the destruction of human embryos, a constitutional right. In South Dakota, voters will decide whether a recently enacted law there that criminalizes all abortions, even when a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, will stay on the books.

In different ways, all of these measures reflect the failure of politics. Missouri’s proposed amendment, driven by powerful biomedical interests, is especially misguided. Changing the basic framework of state law to resolve the tortuous moral issue of embryonic stem-cell research seems designed to cut off debate and to foreclose the possibility of a legislative compromise opposing parties can live with. At the moment, the utilitarian argument justifying research because of the potential benefit for those afflicted with diseases like Parkinson’s seems to be carrying the day. Objections that microscopic embryos deserve moral respect and legal protection are too abstract...

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