Donna Shalala, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, recently said at a press conference: “We have the knowledge and the technology to prevent the spread [of AIDS]. What we have lacked until now is the political will.” The press conference was held to introduce the latest government-sponsored nightmare: a series of commercials, putatively designed for AIDS prevention, which openly advocate, for the first time in a federal government program, the use of condoms “consistently and correctly.” The ads are targeted at young adults aged 18 to 25 and are part of larger “community-based” crusades to make the world safe for promiscuity. All the major television and radio stations have agreed to run the ads, although only NBC and FOX have agreed to do so without any restrictions on the time or content of the advertisements, a fact that caused an outburst of applause from the reporters covering the press conference. Some stations, in an attack of conscience, agreed to run the more explicit ads only after tags promoting abstinence are added. Even with these minor alterations, the response to the condom commercials is a striking contrast to the networks’ almost-total rejection of a series of pro-life spots funded by a private foundation.

The ads themselves, designed by the firm of Ogilvy & Mather South for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, contain various scenes not suitable for reprint in a family magazine, although they are already being broadcast into the living room of every American family—except those smart enough not to own a television. Secretary Shalala calls the ads “sophisticated,” and so they are: they feature cute dialogue and high-tech animation, and some include various popular performers to trumpet the party line, so as to grab the attention of the mass of zombies that is their intended audience. Some of the nine new spots (it is said) promote abstinence as the best policy for avoiding sexually transmitted diseases; the ads, however, indicate no place for young adults to obtain information on why refraining from sexual activity might be a good thing yet provide a hotline to find out more about correct condom use.

What is most disturbing about the defenses offered by the government for these ads is the blithe assurance that these advertisements are only a matter of health policy, of “knowledge” and “technology,” as if questions of sexual conduct have ever been considered only matters of health. The commercials, it is true, concentrate primarily on reducing the risk of contracting AIDS and, by derivation, other such diseases; no mention is made of illegitimacy, and of course there is no discussion, above the level of personal preference, of the advantages, moral and social, to avoiding promiscuous conduct until marriage or at least a mature age. No, these commercials, like most such government programs, treat their charges as animals with virtually no self-control. The government line is that well, of course, abstinence is best (strictly in terms of disease prevention), but we all know how kids are going to behave, and so we have to be “sophisticated,” explain to the rutting youngsters that the act of procreation is a dangerous and disease-ridden one, and teach them to treat every partner as a possible death sentence.

Nowhere does it seem to occur to the Brain Trust in Washington or Atlanta that a segment of the population might think these advertisements just a bit too sophisticated for their simple tastes and consider them an affront to values—like chastity, or parental supervision, or traditional norms regarding matters of intimacy—they hold dear. What becomes clear is that while promoting the use of condoms might have some health benefits (although the scientific evidence is not as certain as the CDC would like us to believe), the deeper result of a program like this is to strike yet another blow at the traditional beliefs of the American people. Citizens in some states are already winning small victories against this new type of subversion. The Texas Board of Education has approved an abstinence program, from which parents can remove their children if they find it inappropriate, and in New York a court has just struck down New York City’s policy of providing condoms to students without their parents’ knowledge or permission, ruling that such a program violates parental rights.

Shalala and company claim that the commercials are only a small part of the total government package, that other “community-based” programs can take a more flexible approach to respond to the needs of the members of various locales. This answer strains credulity. Can we really believe that local programs promoting other messages will survive and not be either strangled by a lack of federal funds or attacked with the bogus charge of “imposing morality”? Already, left-wing and homosexual activists are pressing for more explicit commercials, saying that the present ones do not give how-to instructions clearly enough. In Washington, there is no question as to whether regular citizens or militant activists have the greater influence. That the commercials ignore the plain statistical fact of the disease’s victims is yet a further sign that social engineering, and not solely health policy, is at the root of this new campaign.