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Elders Finds Herself A Campaign Target

By Janine Sharell/CNN

NEW YORK (Oct. 9) -- Former Surgeon General Joyceln Elders has made a career out of saying things that make people blush.

"Our country talked about masturbation more than in December of 1994 than they ever have in the history of the country, and you know, people would think you'd be embarrassed about that," she said. "I'm not embarrassed about that." (128K WAV sound)

Elders has no regrets about saying masturbation should be part of sex education, though that comment forced her resignation from the Clinton Administration nearly two years ago. The whole incident takes up just three pages in her new autobiography, "From Sharecropper's Daughter To Surgeon General."

elders book

"We know in politics, people do what is politically correct," Elders says. "When you're the surgeon general, you can't worry about what's politically correct."

Elders' book is less a political tell-all than a chronicle of her life. She grew up in rural Arkansas in a home without running water and never even saw a doctor until she was in college.

In her book, Elders calls teenage pregnancy the greatest threat to America's social fabric, blaming it for a cycle of poverty that keeps women and children unhealthy and uneducated. And she says being a black woman makes her uniquely qualified to do something about it.

"They know that I've been there, I've seen the problems, and I'm talking about real problems and the facts. I'm not talking down to them," she says.

elders speaking

Elders now makes a living on the lecture circuit and as a professor at the University of Arkansas, but her name hasn't fallen out of politics.

On the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole has attacked positions Elders held as surgeon general. What angers her most is the suggestion that she's a bad role model for young people.

"I feel that they've been in Washington so long they don't even know what's going on with young people and you can tell that by the things they talk about in the debate," she said. (128K WAV sound)

elders interview

One thing she says young people are concerned with is AIDS and Elders says she's encouraged by new data that shows teenage pregnancy rates are down for the first time in decades.

"More young women are using condoms to protect themselves from HIV and I think that's contributed," she said.

Though she hasn't spoken to Clinton since he asked for her resignation, Elders says she'll vote for him in November. Meantime, her own campaign to educate young people will continue in her own, uncompromising style.

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