Conflate much?

In Slate, Will Saletan asks how Pres. Bush can oppose stem cell research irrelevant of a cost benefit analysis of the number of lives it will save (i.e., more than it will cost, even granting that each embryo is a life) while supporting the death penalty on deterrence grounds. This seems like a reasonable question to me, noting that the President is in favor of balancing a smaller number of lives lost against a larger number of lives saved in one context, but not another. I also think a similar argument could possibly be extended to the Iraq war.

I read about Saletan's piece via Prof. Volokh, who implies that Saletan is being intellectually dishonest, or at least coming close to it. He does this because Volokh thinks that a) the distinction between the life of a guilty person (death penalty context) and an innocent person (stem cell research context) easily explains Bush's position* and b) Saletan knows this, since some of the Bush quotes Saletan excerpts were said very soon after Bush himself had mentioned the guilty/innocent distinction. Furthermore, Volokh notes that the guilty/innocent distinction is such a standard rhetorical move in this sort of debate I'm not saying that Volokh himself draws this distinction and therefore opposes stem cell funding (I would guess he favors it), but that he thinks it's a coherent argument for someone to make and not at all hypocritical.

This is too quick a "gotcha!" on Volokh's part. The guilty/innocent distinction can be used to support the death penalty and oppose stem cell research, but not to support the death penatly on deterrence grounds and oppose stem cell research. To say otherwise is a conflation of deterrence and retributivism. All of Saletan's quotes are of Bush or one of his press secretaries saying that the support is on deterrence grounds. Guilt isn't involved there, cost/benefit analysis is. If Bush were to say, "I support the death penalty because certain crimes have the result of forfeiting the criminal's right to live and we should never destroy some lives for the benefit of others," that would be coherent. But deterrence is logically independent of guilt or innocence, and Saletan's article asks a valid question.

*On a side note, see Yglesias on why Bush's position is not principled at all. No principled position under consideration leads to not funding stem cell research, they lead to either actually banning it or encouraging it. Not funding is purely political and non-principled.