Archive for Thursday, February 21, 2002

Powell critics ignore reality

February 21, 2002


To James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family:

What planet are you from? Can I tag along next time you go back for a visit? PLEASE?

Yes, I know: You're wondering how I figured out you weren't from here. Don't worry, your secret's safe with me.

Truth is, I've long suspected that you and other members of the traditional values crowd were of extraterrestrial origin. But it wasn't until last week that I knew for sure.

That's when Secretary of State Colin Powell went on MTV, where he answered questions from young people around the world. He spoke about race, war and terrorism, but it was his words about sex that set off the firestorm. A young woman asked about condom use, and Powell said this: "I believe condoms (are) part of the solution to the HIV/AIDS crisis, and I encourage their use by our young people who are sexually active."

In response, you and other traditional values types jumped on him like he was a trampoline. Some suggested he was disloyal to the president, who has heretofore not been known for his support of condom use. You went a step further, pointedly reminding Powell that he is secretary of state, not health. In effect, you told him to stay in his place.

All this because Powell didn't parrot your preferred response to questions about sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy: which is abstinence. Followed by abstinence. Topped off by abstinence. And then, for good measure, abstinence. All abstinence, all the time.

And that's when it hit me: Obviously, you're from a planet where, when teen-agers are told not to do something ... "they don't do it!"

What a paradise that must be. How does it work? Does the dad pull the son aside and say, "Son, today I want you to avoid R-rated movies and sexual intercourse." Does the son say with a Wally Cleaver smile, "Yes sir!" And does Dad then go about his business confident that the son will obey? Wow.

So how else does your planet differ from ours? I mean, like ... do the cows give chocolate milk? Do doughnuts help you lose weight? Is there a comedian like Tom Green, except funny?

Things are different on our planet. Here, cows give plain old white milk, doughnuts make you fat, Tom Green reeks, and when you tell a kid not to do a thing, you ensure an even chance that he will do exactly, precisely that thing. Which is frustrating enough when all you're telling him is not to hang out with bad kids or listen to foul music. But when the issue is sex, the stakes are higher, the potential results of his behavior considerably more serious: as in the creation of unwanted life and infection by fatal viruses.

I doubt Colin Powell has anything against abstinence. I doubt anyone who's ever raised children does. Personally, I'd like to see my kids abstain until they're at least 35.

But the secretary knows there is always a good chance our children will foolishly disregard our counsel. So I guess he figures it's important to accept that reality and do what we can to mitigate it. Note that Powell's words were addressed not to young people, but to young people who are ALREADY sexually active.

Sometimes, we act as if unmarried sex were a new development. It isn't, of course. Roughly 50 years ago, back in the heyday of the picket fence and the nuclear family, the Kinsey Report found that girls and boys were routinely doing the deed without benefit of clergy.

The difference is, we talk about it now. And apparently the secretary thinks one of the things we should talk about is how to save children from their impulsive, impatient selves. He probably figures that to bury our heads and pretend they'll always do the right thing because we tell them to is to invite disaster.

I'm sure that sounds awfully silly to an advanced being like you, but try not to be too hard on Secretary Powell. Like many of us, he's afflicted with an imperfection that makes it difficult for him to see things as you do:

He's from Earth.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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