Meese and AIDS


Meese and AIDS

One of the chief managerial innovations of this Administrationis what might be called the synecdoche approach to great problems. The idea is to attack some small, vulnerable part of the problem by means that would be difficult to apply directly to the whole problem for practical or political reasons. Thus, "international terrorism' is dealt a stout blow by bombing Libya. Communism in the Caribbean is smote by invading Grenada. A wave of alleged espionage coups by the Soviet Union is reversed by requiring Federal polygraph tests.

Challenged by a menacing, unruly, complex world, theAdministration reflexively reacts by striking out at the nearest available target, in a kind of symbolic gesture always calculated to appeal to the political right. The most recent application of the synecdoche approach is the policy that Attorney General Edwin Meese 3d announced last week for fighting AIDS. The Meese plan calls for compulsory testing of immigrants, refugees and aliens seeking admission to or permanent residence in the United States, and of new inmates in Federal prisons. Meese also suggested that prisoners up for parole might be tested and that a finding that the prisoner is carrying AIDS antibodies might be sufficient grounds for denying parole.

Thus, we see the synecdochic mind at work. The Administration,confronted by the challenge--AIDS--first practices malign neglect, since the high-risk people are mostly gay men and addicts, and who cares about them? Panic spreads, however, and the public demands action. The favored remedy on the right is compulsory testing and, its ultimate objective, quarantining all who test positive. But the experts, those inveterate advocates of nonsimplistic and often expensive solutions, are opposed to such a course; the Surgeon General is an outspoken critic of the idea. So when the President makes his long-awaited statement on AIDS, he edges closer to his Surgeon General's position and calls for "routine' testing in certain limited spheres. But even that modification is criticized by health experts, who point out that tests for couples getting married hardly touches high-risk groups, and is thus purposeless.

And so it was left to the Old Enforcer, Ed Meese, to findthe Grenada for AIDS. He came up with aliens and prisoners, whose political clout is only slightly greater than the residents of a cemetery (who, at least in some Chicago wards, have the vote). …

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