04/04/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

GOP Brings "Just Say No" Message to Health Care, Economic Stimulus, Sex Ed

Nancy Reagan is apparently being channeled throughout the nation's capital, especially among the Republicans.

As you may recall, during her time in the White House, the former first lady made one of her signature initiatives the "Just Say No" campaign to combat the nation's drug problem. Mrs. Reagan claimed that the best anti-drug program was refusal by the would be user. So, when America's teens walked into their various Friday and Saturday night soirees and were offered a hit off the proverbial but ever-present joint, they were supposed to rise up in unison with a two-letter response: No.

The campaign did not work very well. Teens being . . . well, teens . . . couldn't quite get to "No" en masse. Either peer pressure, or existing addiction, or the more widespread, "maybe I'll try it just once" approach left "No", if not dead in the water, at least on life support. The crack cocaine epidemic still swept through the cities and cocaine itself was featured at the hippest parties among the so-called cooler (and richer) set. There was that famous scene in Crocodile Dundee where the Australian backcountry-man, Mick Dundee, having rescued the yuppie reporter from certain death in the outback, and returned to New York with the reporter to sample high society only to come upon a party animal in an Upper East Side kitchen bent over a bowl of coke, snorting away. Thinking the poor fellow has a head cold and is only trying to inhale the steam from a bowl of boiled water, the ever-solicitous Mick puts a dish towel over the snorter's head just to improve the intake.

No one in the movie said, "No."

And neither did America's kids.

Not even the then-kid who is today President.

Nevertheless, though "No" does not seem to work very well, it is today making a massive comeback. Among the Grand Old Party -- which is neither "grand" nor "old" (historically at least) nor even much of a "party" these days, riven as it is by Tea-Party types insisting on right-wing conformity -- "No" is the watchword on health care, the stimulus, deficit reduction and pretty much anything else proposed by the Obama administration.

Scott Brown, the newly elected Senator from Massachusetts who will serve the remaining two years of Ted Kennedy's term--(you can't call it "Teddy's Senate seat," says Scott, "because it's the people's seat," even though the "people" now calling it "Teddy's seat" are all Fox commentators bragging about what an upset was wrought in wresting from the Democrats the seat "once held by Ted Kennedy")--said "Yes" to universal health care when Republican Mitt Romney proposed it for Massachusetts, but now says "No." Apparently what was good enough for Massachusetts is not good enough for the rest of us.

Republicans who were enthusiastic about "pay-go" budget rules in the '90s as exactly the sort of legislative discipline needed to curb deficit spending are now opposed to them. Even that earmark killer John McCain now says it was a bad idea -- fewer earmarks to kill, I guess, if we can't borrow to fund those bridges to nowhere. Any new stimulus is, of course, a definite "No." In fact, even the one they all voted for when Bush was President is being re-cast as some sort of out of body experience no good Republican can even remember voting for.

It's just one big orgy of negativity in DC.

And now comes the news that "abstinence only" education will make a comeback itself in the war against teen pregnancy.

That's right. There is a new study out from a group at the University of Pennsylvania. According to news reports, the researchers found that, among the sixth and seventh graders -- basically 11- and 12-year-olds -- 33 percent of those who went through the abstinence program started having sex within two years, compared with 52 percent who were just taught safe sex. I can't figure out what happened with the other 15 percent.

The study is being trumpeted as a major breakthrough, though I have my doubts. In order to make sure they were testing the efficacy of abstinence education, the researchers made sure that only abstinence could be taught to one control group and that only safe sex could be taught to another control group. Apparently when you combined the educative approaches and taught both, the rate of those who had sex within the next two years (42 percent) was in the middle of the two groups -- in other words, higher than the abstinence-only group but lower than the safe sex group.

Here is the problem. The curriculum, apparently for all of the groups, included discussion about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. So the abstinence-only kids were given a primer on AIDS, as were the safe sex kids and the combined-approach kids. But, somewhat obviously I fear, if you tell a bunch of 11- and 12-year-olds that they can die from having sex and then tell them that the "only" way to avoid that fate is to abstain, it's not surprising that 67 percent will get the message (the other 33 percent either were asleep or knew they were being lied to). If you tell them you can have safe sex and not die, fewer will obviously abstain.

This study will be catnip to the anti-condom crowd. And that is the really bad news. The objective in educating kids on the use of condoms is not to get them to avoid or delay having sex. It's to impress upon them the need to practice safe sex when they have sex, whenever that turns out to be. I am a father of a 21-year-old boy and a 19-year-old girl. I told them both to abstain, and from what I have been told by their stepmother, (who is able to obtain the classified information to which I am never privy), they did not have sex at 13 or 14 nor even shortly thereafter. But I also told them that condoms were a must, which I am guessing may have more to do with their good health right now than my abstinence speech a decade ago.

"Just Say No" is not a substitute. It's not even a solution.

Not on health care.

Not on the deficit.

And not on teen pregnancy.

But the right wing won't get that message. With them, it's just . . .

Here we "No" again.