Elders for Surgeon General

July 16, 1993

Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who is President Clinton's nominee for surgeon general of the United States, faces confirmation hearings before the Senate Labor Committee today that deserve to be fiercely controversial -- and educational. We support Dr. Elders without reservation, not least because she dares to shock the American public and enrage the religious right with blunt commentary on how this country should confront the searing problem of unwanted, unplanned teen-age pregnancies.

She favors health education in schools that would alert adolescents of the perils they face before it is too late. So do we. She encourages local school boards to permit distribution of condoms under appropriate controls to sexually active teenage girls. So do we. Dr. Elders' purpose is not to encourage promiscuity, but to discourage it by stressing personal responsibility and control over one's body and life.

Listen to this 59-year-old daughter of black Arkansas sharecroppers, now a distinguished pediatric endocrinologist who for the past five years has headed her state's health department as a Clinton appointee. "Eighty percent of the poverty in America is related to teenage pregnancies," she says, and most of the young men in prison are the offspring of unmarried adolescents. She traces most of the nation's crime wave to this breakdown in the historic pattern of mature, two-parent households.

As a public health specialist who also favors clean needle exchanges to fight the AIDS plague and offering Norplant contraceptives to prostitutes who sell sex to support drug habits, Dr. Elders is very much on the cutting edge not of "political correctness," as her critics charge, but of political shock therapy. And because political shock therapy is precisely what American society needs to deal with problems that can no longer be hidden away, the assault on her nomination from the religious right should be met head on.

By all means, let this issue be thrashed out before the Senate Labor Committee and on the Senate floor. The more Dr. Elders goads Americans to face reality, not just about sex or drugs but about the need to put far more stress on preventive medicine, the more the nation will be ready to act. Her message is not divisive, as was Lani Guinier's in matters of race and and weighted voting. Instead, it is one of tough good sense, even if applied to unpalatable subjects in words that are sometimes unnecessarily inflammatory.

We'll take the chance. And we will count on President Clinton to stick by this nominee and the Senate to see Dr. Elders through to confirmation.

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