Hillary Clinton made two big mistakes in Tuesday night’s debate that were overshadowed by other issues and thus underreported. Her response to Brian Williams asking whether any candidate who becomes President would pledge to be the President who knocks cancer down from the status as number one killer of Americans under the age of 85. Senator Clinton’s answer was:
“I’m going to do everything I can to do that. I went to Lance Armstrong’s cancer symposium in Iowa and it was a very moving experience — not only people like us speaking but a lot of cancer survivors, a lot of researchers. It’s just outrageous that under President Bush, the National Institutes of Health has been basically decreased in funding. We are on the brink of so many medical breakthroughs, and I will once again fund that research, get those applications processed, get those young researchers in those labs to know that we’re going to tackle cancer and try to do everything we can to drive its death rate down.”
The first mistake was factual in her accusations that under President Bush, the NIH has been decreased in funding. The facts are that since 2001, cancer research funding has increased by 26 percent at the NIH. Further, partly as a result of this, 2006 was the second consecutive year there was a drop in cancer deaths in the United States.
Senator Clinton’s bigger mistake was to introduce politics into cancer prevention and research. If ever there was a bi-partisan cause, searching for new and improved approaches to preventing and curing cancer would be at the top of the list. And political leaders of both parties (e.g. Senators Specter and Feinstein) have joined hands in support of these efforts.
I speak with some personal experience, as my wife Marlene and I have supported and funded a range of cancer research, prevention, and treatment causes. Marlene serves on the Board of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Board of Visitors of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and the Cancer Board of the Mayo Clinic. She is also President of Friends of Cancer Research, an organization co-founded by Marlene and Chairwoman, Ellen Sigal (a dedicated Democrat). For their work on Friends of Cancer Research, Marlene and Ellen were named Washingtonians of the Year by Washingtonian Magazine, two years ago.
Marlene and Ellen’s success and my commitment have been bolstered by their bi-partisan approach in the belief that cancer is a dread without political boundaries. Politicizing this issue can only be detrimental to the ultimate goal of eradicating this disease.
As an aside, I had lunch yesterday with former White House Press Secretary and cancer survivor, Tony Snow. Thanks to successful treatment, Tony is more vibrant and energetic than ever. We will be privileged to be in attendance Saturday night when he receives the 2007 Lombardi Symbol of Caring Award as a testimony to the extraordinary strides he has made in encouraging cancer research, prevention, and treatment through awareness and philanthropy.