Walking and chewing gum at the same time

WALKING AND CHEWING GUM AT THE SAME TIME…. President Obama will deliver on another campaign promise today, lifting Bush-era restrictions on stem-cell research. The change is a no-brainer — the research offers the promise of life-saving medical breakthroughs, enjoys bipartisan support on the Hill, and has the strong support of the electorate.

So, what has the right come up with to criticize today’s announcement? Apparently, the president’s move is a “distraction.”

President Obama’s impending reversal of the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research is meant to distract from the economy, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) suggested Sunday.

“There’s a reason it’s coming up this week,” Cantor said during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Why are we going and distracting ourselves from the economy? This is job No. 1, let’s focus on what needs to be done…. Let’s take care of business first — people are out of jobs. And again, there is a reason why all of this is happening right now.”

It’s not just Cantor.

Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a former Speaker of the House, told the Fix late Sunday that Obama’s move on stem cells was an “ideological sideshow” that took focus away from the continued decline of the economy. “It is dangerous for the Obama administration to pick a wide series of fights,” said Gingrich. “Each of these fights simply drains energy away and increases the coalition which decides it has a collective interest in stopping everything.”

This doesn’t make any sense. And not just in the usual way — the arguments against stem-cell research have never been coherent — but also in these specific concerns.

First, expanding stem-cell research is not a “distraction.” It doesn’t take that long for the president to sign an executive order. His focus on the economy will remain unaffected.

Second, the White House isn’t “picking a fight,” it’s ending one. Obama promised voters he’d do this, they voted for him, so he’s following through. There are plenty of Republican lawmakers — even conservatives ones — who support this move, so there’s need for a new round of partisan sniping.

Third, Cantor emphasized the notion of an elaborate scheme, insisting that “there is a reason why all of this is happening right now.” I’m not even sure what this means. (One gets the sense that anytime teh White House does anything the right doesn’t like, it will necessarily be dismissed as part of a conspiracy to take our minds off the economy.)

And finally, is it so outrageous to think expanding medical research opportunities might be … wait for it … good for the economy? The Wall Street Journal noted this morning, “Lifting federal funding restrictions on embryonic-stem-cell studies will re-energize U.S. researchers and likely bring tens of millions of dollars to university labs.”

Scientific advancements and U.S. competitiveness on breakthrough medical treatments does have a positive effect on economic growth. We fell behind under Republican rule, and Obama will help get us back on track today.

If the right is going to complain about this, they’re going to need better talking points.