Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Elders Indulged in Unsafe Speech

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Elders Indulged in Unsafe Speech

Article excerpt

Leave it to Joycelyn Elders to force the country into one final sex lesson on her way out the door. This many people haven't stuttered over a word since the network anchors choked on "tampon" while describing toxic shock syndrome.

When it was first proclaimed that the surgeon general had advocated masturbation lessons in sex education classes, even her admirers threw up their hands. What would the kids do for a final exam? Achieve orgasm?

Then slowly the facts began filtering through the flak. She wasn't signing up schoolchildren for how-to classes. In her answer to a rambling question at an AIDS conference, the surgeon general reflected on her opinion that masturbation was a natural part of human sexuality and perhaps educators could say so.

But by the time the text and the context of her remarks had gone public, Elders was gone altogether. She was fired for again crossing the invisible, shifting line between being outspoken and loose-lipped. As in loose lips sink ships.

Bill Clinton had protected Elders when she was charged - unfairly - with favoring the legalization of drugs. He stood by her when she said that pro-lifers had to get over their "love affair with the fetus." But by the time the M-word came into play, it was three, four, five strikes and you're out.

Didn't anybody ever teach Elders not to have unprotected sex talks with strangers in public places?

The White House inner circle determined they had enough trouble fighting Newt Gingrich and his orphanages without worrying that Elders was talking about masturbation. She was the sacrificial lamb who carried the knife around in her own shoot-from-the-hip pocket.

The common and conflicted wisdom about Elders is that she may have been right but she didn't have the right to say it. Or at least she didn't have the right way to say it.

Before she came to Washington, Elders admitted/bragged: "I never learned to tone it down." She leaves Washington with that reputation intact. She has become the perfect profile of an impolitic woman in a political job.

And so Elders also leaves behind a question about what exactly you can say in public life. …

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