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June 19, 2008
Michelle Obama's pander
James Taranto calls out Michelle Obama for appalling pandering to the lie that the government deliberately injected black men with syphilis in the notorious Tuskegee Study. Yesterday, a New York Times article about her noted that she had killed a research project on the human papillomavirus, because of sensitivity to the widespread mistaken belief in the black community that that such research abuses happen to blacks.
It is a widely held belief in the fantasy land of victimology that the famous Tuskegeee experiments saw the government inject blacks with syphilis. Usually this urban myth is cited to assert that it is reasonable to believe that the government created AIDS as a targeted disease. The reach of this lie goes far beyond the black community.
Barack Obama promises to heal us, and getting the truth out about Tuskegee is important to America's racial healing. Belief in the lie that whites deliberately infected blacks to study them eats away at the soul's desire for reconciliation. Only those with a vested interest in racial grievances would have a desire to allow this resentment-generating falsehood to go unchallenged, it seems to me.
Barack and Michelle Obama's longtime Pastor Jeremiah Wright has openly proclaimed his belief in the Tuskegee lie, and in the government AIDS conspiracy as well.
But when Barack Obama gave his famous race speech on March 18, he elided this falsity. The closest he came to a rebuke was,
The truth about the experiment is far more complicated and less tinged with government or white animosity to blacks than the Wright version would have it. But since the matter seemed to have passed with the Obama soft shoe about race and an occasional media account that attempted clarification, I let it pass
Until yesterday, that is, when that New York Times revealed, in a mostly complimentary article about Michelle Obama, that she seems to have indulged the Tuskegee myth while working at a senior level for one of the world's great centers of medical learning. If anything, the Times seemed impressed:
Think about it. Michelle gets over $300,000 per year (how many distinguished professors make that much?) from a university hospital to "outreach" with the community and one of the things her defenders point to, in order to justify this munificent salary, is that she stopped a legitimate trial of a vaccine which could save the lives of young black girls in her community.
When black people decline to participate in medical studies out of fear, then medical research is less able to address their health needs correctly. Black distrust of the medical system, fanned by the Tuskegee fantasy, is probably a factor discouraging prenatal and preventative care among some black Americans. This are not a good thing for blacks.
Yet we are somehow supposed to be favorably impressed that Michelle Obama killed a research study at a center of learning to avoid reaching out with the truth to the black community around her hospital. Instead of spreading learning to those who need it --supposedly the mission of a university and its teaching hospital -- Michelle Obama seems to have pandered to ignorance.
Perhaps she avoided trouble for the hospital. It wasn't an issue worth fighting about, and fighting it would have required a lot of time and energy.
But isn't that what community leaders -- and leaders of all kinds -- are supposed to do? Serve and empower people by giving them the truth, perhaps?
*The Obamas seem to have no interest in the truth of Tuskegee, but in the hope that you do, here is a quick outline.
The experiment began in 1932 and ran until 1972 in which poor black sharecroppers were denied treatment for syphilis. When it began it was with the beneficent end of determining whether the subjects were better off not being treated with the then-existing treatment methods, which were themselves often toxic. But by 1947 penicillin had become the standard treatment for syphilis. At that point Tuskegee could have treated all the men with penicillin or broken off some as a control group and treated the others. The failure of the program and the reason why the government conceded error and paid the survivors and their families was in denying the subjects knowledge of and treatment with penicillin, NOT in injecting them with syphilis.
Further, the failed experiment led to a significant review and reappraisal of biomedical ethics respecting clinical trials, which surely the University of Chicago medical school fellows know, and which Michelle should know about before blocking trials that could benefit the very community she claims to serve.