QUESTION: Dr. Joycelyn Elders, President Clinton's nominee to become the next U.S. surgeon general, is under fire for controversial views on critical health issues and a variety of ethical questions. Should she be confirmed by the Senate?
BONNIE ERBE: Is Dr. Joycelyn Elders controversial? You bet. Does she seem to relish her role as verbal flame-thrower? Emphatically so. Why else would she call on pro-lifers to end their "love affair with the fetus"?Why else would she say teens need sex education as keenly as they need driver's education, because we teach teens what to do in the "front seat of the car, but not the back seat"?
So she likes an extra hit of tabasco in her salsa. Whether you agree with her views or not, it's apparent Elders is that rare breed of public official who isn't in office just for the power trip.
She's there to fight for her passionate beliefs. And she doesn't care if her own verbal missiles blow huge ruts in the path ahead of her. She is so committed to the causes she espouses, no amount of carping by her political opponents can stop her. She's even willing to take on her own constituency - lecturing black teenage girls not to become unwed mothers.
Some blacks have charged her with advocating genocide. Elders says children born into poverty - particularly black children - are essentially born into slavery. And she says no child should be brought into this world who isn't planned and wanted. Yes, conservatives are trying to derail Elders' nomination. But in fairness, the left is just as quick to discredit outspoken conservative nominees as the right is to derail outspoken liberals.
BETSY HART: My colleague can rest assured. The Senate will likely confirm Dr. Joycelyn Elders. But the Senate will only do it because its members are terrified of rejecting another black woman, even for the right reasons, as they did Lani Guinier and Anita Hill.
So ethics and extremist views be hanged; full steam ahead with the nomination. While my colleague might pass lightly over Elders' ethics violations, they are such that any white male, especially a conservative, would have been dropped like a hot potato over them. First she is accused of being paid as a federal consultant while still collecting her salary as Arkansas state health director.
In addition, though he claims sole responsibility for the omission, she and her husband did not pay Social Security or income taxes for a nurse he hired to care for his elderly mother. And she is the target of a lawsuit for alleged malfeasance as one of five former directors of the National Bank of Arkansas.
But these serious allegations pale in comparison to her radical views on public health. Where past surgeons general have focused on heart or lung disease, Elders' focus is growing rates of teen pregnancy.
This would be a very worthwhile problem to tackle, except that her answer to the problem is unrestricted and tax-funded abortions, "sexuality education" starting in kindergarten and free distribution of condoms in schools.
The problem is these "solutions" have never been shown to mitigate teen pregnancy but have been shown to exacerbate it. In Arkansas, teen pregnancy rates dropped by 10 percent during the 1980s, but have risen 17 percent since she took over as state health director in 1987 and put many of her programs into place.