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Public Health Hero C. Everett Koop Once Again Puts Biology Above Politics, Dies

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C. Everett Koop, the Surgeon General whose anti-abortion stance appeared to be a feather in the Religious Right's cap when Ronald Reagan appointed him in 1981, but whose subsequent career as a crusader for science-based policy turned out to be a big black eye for the tobacco industry and gay-haters,died yesterday at the age of 96. Let's take a few minutes to remember a man whose insistence on putting science ahead of ideology surprised the liberals who initially opposed him and flummoxed the Culture Warriors who eventually came to consider him a traitor.


You'll want to read the NY Times obit for the Big Picture stuff; we're going to spend a little time here with this lovely remembrance by Michael Specter for the New Yorker. Specter notes that Reagan's appointment of Koop looked, at first, like a triumph of political hackery over competence: the guy had written a "strident 1979 manifesto, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, [that ] helped establish the evangelical base for America’s anti-abortion movement." Worse, Koop had virtually no experience in public health or setting policy. The Religious Right was delighted that one of their own was going to be in at least a symbolically significant role, and Democrats were just as worried for the same reason. Jesse Helms led the cheering for Koop, and Henry Waxman "called him 'scary' and 'intolerant.'"

The year-long fight over Koop's confirmation was a preliminary skirmish in the Culture Wars, and helped set the stage for the all out fuck-tussels over confirmation that finally became business as usual with Reagan's 1987 nomination of the late Roberk Bork to the Supreme Court. As Specter says, Koop ended up subverting just about everyone's expectations of him:

Koop turned out to be a scientist who believed in data at least as deeply as he believed in God. And he proceeded to alienate nearly every supporter he had on the religious and political right. To fight the growing epidemic of AIDS, Koop recommended a program of compulsory sex education in schools, and argued that, by the time they reached third grade, children should be taught how to use condoms. He did not consider homosexuality morally acceptable -- and he never changed his view about that. But he understood that viruses have no religion or sexual orientation and that H.I.V. was a virus. He campaigned vigorously against smoking in public spaces, saying that tobacco should be eliminated from American society by 2000. He was the first public official to state categorically that second-hand smoke causes cancer. Tobacco companies -- and Jesse Helms, their biggest congressional ally -- could hardly believe Koop’s treachery.

On abortion, the issue that Reagan and Koop agreed on most completely -- Koop "had compared abortion to the killing of Jews at Auschwitz" -- the Believer in Koop once again conceded to the scientist. Assigned to prepare a report on psychological consequences of abortion, Koop

took to the road and met with hundreds of activists on both sides of the issue and reviewed hundreds of scientific publications. Then, for a while, there was silence. One day a member of his staff called me and said that Koop had decided to issue no report.

“Huh?” I said. “How can that be?” Simple, I was told. Koop was unable to say whether, with any scientific certainty, an abortion was always more damaging than the alternative. He refused to issue the report, because, as he told the President, there weren’t enough data to support either “the preconceived notions of those pro life or those pro choice.”

Should Koop have at least issued that equivocal report? Probably. Should he have been even quicker to depart from the Reagan policy of silence on the AIDS crisis than he was? Again, probably, but he truly was the only voice in the Reagan Administration who was saying anything at all, and his influence finally brought that deliberate neglect to an end. This was a man who reminded us to be gentle during buttsex, so as to avoid AIDS, and so he may well be some sort of Wonkette Patron Saint.

We can't come up with a better closing than Specter's, so we won't even try:

In this era, during which progress, facts, and science are under unrelenting siege, it is thrilling to remember that even ideologues can love the truth. R.I.P. Dr. Koop.

[NYT / New Yorker]

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I'd mentioned this week that there's definitely probably a tape out there of Donald Trump referring to a black person as a "nigger," because Trump is a racist and that's sort of what they do. Sarah Huckabee Sanders won't even affirmatively deny such a tape exists, and she's from the "two plus two equals five" school of communications management. I also speculated that once the tape was released, Republican supporters of the president would flock to defend his vile words: "Hey, if you rearrange the letters in "nigger," you get "ginger" and who doesn't like redheads and the occasional Dark 'n' Stormy?"

The shameful display has already started and the supposed recording isn't even available for pre-order on iTunes. Georgia State Senator Michael Williams stated in appearance on CNN's "New Day Saturday" that if Trump -- who's the president, by the way -- did say "nigger," it would certainly concern him as an "individual" but "not necessarily as a person that is running our country." So, uh, what the hell is that? This has been a standard argument from Republicans ever since Trump crawled his way out of the sewers of birtherism and onto a major political stage: "We think Trump is a terrible human being -- seriously, we have to shower immediately after meeting with him -- but we still think he's a suitable steward of the most powerful nation on the planet."

Normally, you'd think this would work the other way. You know, your brother-in-law is a nice enough guy. Your sister certainly could've done worse. You don't mind the slightly rambling sports-ball discussions with him at family gatherings. He's good for looking after the kids (as long as your sister is present or reachable by cell), but you'd never invest your hard-earned money into whatever half-assed business venture he's trying to get off the ground nor would you back his run for any serious political office.

I've long had issues with the "brilliant asshole" archetype in TV and movies. It's almost always a white male (because women and minorities must be perfect) whose emotional immaturity and overall jerkass behavior we're told to overlook because they're so goshdarned awesome. Do you want some PC "cuck" or do you want Dr. House to figure out that the MS symptoms you're suffering are really just because you ate a stale doughnut? Sherlock Holmes doesn't have time for your feelings or social niceties -- not while he's solving mysteries and being dreamy.

Trump, however, isn't "brilliant." He's just a guy who says "nigger." They're hardly a scarcity in the market. You don't even have to venture out to a klan rally to find one. You can order online -- same day social media delivery.

Williams argues that Trump didn't use the word "nigger" when he was in the "office of the president." It was just some youthful indiscretion when he was almost 60. I don't even know where he's going with this. Does he think Trump has changed? He routinely insults and belittles black people. He also calls black NFL players who peacefully protest "sons of bitches." Was that his way of weaning off calling us "niggers"? Has he been wearing a "nigger" patch on his arm to control his cravings for the racial epithet?

"He used the word in his personal life," Williams said. (It was actually in a workplace context -- SER) "Now if he were president and were to go on TV and use the n-word, I'd have a major problem with that."

media.giphy.com

It's heartening repulsive to see that Williams draws the line at Trump holding an official "nigger" press conference. I think once we reach that point, Trump will probably also reveal that his buddies on the Supreme Court discovered a typo in the Thirteenth Amendment and black folks' work-life balance will start to really suffer.

"I will always say using the n-word is wrong, and it's bad, and should never be accepted in our society. But just because (Trump) might have done it years ago, not as our president, doesn't mean we need to continue to berate him because he used it," GOP state Sen. Michael Williams, who is white, told CNN's Victor Blackwell on "New Day Saturday."

Blackwell, who is black, had to sit there and listen to this crap from a white elected official who is just 45 years old. You know, the word "nigger" doesn't even appear in the Dred Scott decision, for example, but that's not necessary for reasonable people to understand that it was racist as hell. We all know Trump is racist, but now Republicans can't even repudiate the worst demonstrations of his racial animus. The first black president hasn't even been out of office for two full years and already "nigger" is being redefined. What would once end a campaign in its tracks when Blackwell and I were growing up is now just an "oops, my bad."

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