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Posts Tagged ‘Bill Clinton’

Family Life Educator-in-Chief

February 6, 2009

President Barack Obama is our Commander-in-Chief, and First Lady Michelle Obama refers to herself as Mom-in-Chief. Awhile back, former President Bill Clinton earned the title Sex Educator-in-Chief, but he earned it for all the wrong reasons—namely, his indiscreet, lewd and disrespectful conduct with a much-younger intern. I would only bestow that title on someone again if that person attains the highest standards associated with sexuality education. But I will, however, declare President Obama our Family Life Educator-in-Chief.

Why? Because when you look at Obama’s persona, conduct and ideas over the two-year presidential campaign and first 100 hours in office, it is clear that he is a model partner and family supporter who espouses the values of responsibility and caring. Just consider the following:

  • Obama adores his wife. When the President and First Lady danced together to the romantic ballad “At Last” during the inaugural ball, no one in the world could have doubted the depth of their love and attraction for each other—and after 16 years of marriage. They radiate real, not manufactured, intimacy.
  • He is committed to the institution of marriage. At first, President Obama dragged his feet about asking Michelle to marry him. (She was the one that kept pushing him, telling him that “marriage is everything.”) But then he bought the ring and showed it to every member of her family before offering it to her on a dessert plate at a fancy restaurant where he finally proposed. Their commitment to their marriage is a shining example for young people about the importance of partnership. (Note: President Obama has not yet supported same-sex marriage, but he strongly endorses civil unions, where partners have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. This is an important step forward.)
  • He adores his two young daughters. President Obama glows in his daughters’ presence and always refers to them by name in his speeches. I read that after his eldest was born, he worked “the night shift,” because he was only teaching at the time, his schedule was more flexible than his wife’s and she needed more sleep. (You can see his affinity for small children and theirs for him in these photographs from the campaign.)
  • He shows respect and kindness toward family members, scattered as they are from Hawaii to Indonesia to Kenya. Obama’s willingness to invite his mother-in-law to live in the White House also testifies to his understanding of the multi-generations that make up the American family.
  • He calls on young men to take responsibility. Just recall these comments from his speech on Father’s Day last June: “We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. … Too many fathers are M.I.A., too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men.” (Check out the full speech here.)

It’s clear that people have great respect for the Obama’s family life, as this cartoon demonstrates.

Beyond the basics about family life, President Obama is working toward another title: Sex Educator-in-Chief. With the stroke of a pen on his third day in office, he lifted the noxious global gag rule, which has prevented international family planning agencies from mentioning the option of abortion to pregnant women, even if the procedure is legal in their own country.

While saying that abstinence is the ideal, he has also acknowledged the need for young people to have comprehensive information about contraception, because human fallibility and sexual desire can cloud even the clearest minds. (Just check out his official statement on the Prevention First Act.)

If Obama keeps moving in this direction, he may (unlike Bill Clinton) become the true version of a Sex Educator-in-Chief—one that meets our country’s need for sexuality education policies that are based on common sense, intelligence, responsibility and understanding.

The M-Word: Past and Present

January 21, 2009

I know that Leon Panetta is a fine public servant and that he’ll do an excellent job as director of the C.I.A. in the Obama administration. However, when I first heard of his nomination, my thoughts reverted to another moment: The December night in 1994 when, as former President Clinton’s Chief of Staff, Panetta called Dr. Joycelyn Elders to fire her from her post as Surgeon General of the United States. Why? Because she had used the M word. Since this is a blog for sex educators, I will use the correct word: masturbation. (Dr. Elders actually rebuffed Panetta’s attempt to fire her; insisting that the President call her himself.)

There wasn’t much video around at the time to show you the moment Dr. Elders used the M word, so let me set the scene: She was answering reporters’ questions at a United Nations conference on AIDS. A reporter asked her if she thought it would be “appropriate to promote masturbation as a means of preventing young people from engaging in riskier forms of sexual activity.” She replied: “I think that it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught.”

Dr. Elders was not promoting a national policy. She was responding to a member of the press. She used qualifiers like “I think” and “perhaps” in her measured response. But those fateful words got her into big trouble with the White House. About the firing, Panetta said, “There have been too many areas where the President does not agree with her views. This is just one too many.” Dr. Elders went home to Arkansas.

Dr. Elders holds a medical degree in pediatric endocrinology and is an expert on childhood sexual development. As Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton appointed her director of the Arkansas Department of Health and, as President in 1993, he appointed her United States Surgeon General. She was the first African-American to hold the prestigious position.

Her frankness got her into trouble almost from the get-go. Before the masturbation controversy, she argued for the distribution of contraceptives in schools.

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