Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Cult of Personality

You might recall when the above phrase was applied to several individuals, almost always dictators, who fit the definition as expressed in Wikipedia, namely, “A cult of personality arises when a country’s leader uses mass media to create a larger-than-life public image through unquestioning flattery and praise.” This characterized the regimes of Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Castro, Mao Zedong, and most recently, Kim Hong-il of Korea. Of course, any attempt to duplicate this process in the United States would be unthinkable—well, think again.

There were several rather frightening revelations during the July 10 th testimony before a congressional panel, by Richard Carmona, the former Surgeon General of the United States, who was appointed by President Bush to that position. One piece of testimony was rather humorous: for each written page of every speech he gave, Mr. Carmona was required to mention President Bush three times—presumably favorably. While probably an exaggeration, some might say this type of activity is merely a prelude to the development of a personality cult, and perhaps an “Imperial Presidency”? Maybe that wasn’t so funny after all.

The rest of Carmona’s testimony was equally ominous. In fact, you can see the live testimony for yourself by Googling “Daily Kos, Richard Carmona.” He testified that political appointees (not scientists) would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells; emergency contraception; sex education; or prison, mental and global health issues. Here we have the nation’s leader in the fields of health required to adhere to policies driven by non-scientific ideology and religious beliefs.

Typical of this strategy is the president’s refusal to fund any UN (or domestic) program that encourages family planning and/or the use of contraceptive devices, including condoms. Instead, this administration favors agendas that promote abstinence, a policy that has now been proven ineffective. Funded by the administration’s own agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, a report issued this past April stated, “Findings indicate that youths in the program group were no more likely than control group youths to have abstinence from sex and, among those who reported having sex, they had a similar number of sexual partners and had initiated sex at the same median age.” These abstinence programs have lost so much credibility that some 10 states have already abandoned them. In the meantime, some estimates indicate that upward of $1 billion of tax money have been spent on these worthless programs, money that could have been better-spent promoting safe sex and condom usage. But, hey! In the game of life played by some, ideology trumps science time and time again.

Regarding the former Surgeon General, while he had the courage to testify about his travails before Congress, why did he not have the courage to do so while still in office? He served out a four-year term with no indication that he was being muzzled. If he was so frustrated, why didn’t he resign? That question was not addressed during the hearings.


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