What was bad about the Tuskegee experiment was a callous disregard for the humanity and integrity of the patients. They were told they were getting “treatments” when they were merely being studied. They were lied to, treated as objects rather than citizens. This is even more offensive today, now that we have modern legal and ethical rules about informed consent — rules that did not exist when the study was launched. But it was still wrong.
But the idea that the Tuskegee experiment somehow validates the deranged, paranoid view that the U.S. government created AIDS to murder African-Americans — in one of the most hideously painful, drawn-out and expensive manners imaginable — is a riot of ridiculousness and a maelstrom of mendacity. And yet, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard guilt-ridden white liberals say exactly that. “Considering what we did at Tuskegee,” they opine, “who can blame them for being distrustful of government?”
Well, as a conservative, I have no problem with distrusting government, nor can I fault the descendants of slaves or the victims of Jim Crow for distrusting government more than most.
But why blacks remain the most reliable voters for the party of ever-expanding government power is something of a mystery. Indeed, it’s worth noting that the Tuskegee study, launched under the New Deal, was symptomatic of arrogant liberal government. The study “emerged out of a liberal progressive public health movement concerned about the health and well-being of the African-American population,” writes University of Chicago professor Richard Schweder. He adds: “The study was done with the full knowledge, endorsement and participation of African-American medical professionals, hospitals and research institutes.”
Liberals like to invoke Tuskegee as if it’s solely an indictment of what other people did, proof that we need more progressive government. But Tuskegee was in fact the poisoned fruit of progressive government.
A sick irony is that Jeremiah Wright’s lies, and liberal apologies for them, make it more difficult for government to do the job these people want it to do, starting with helping people with AIDS. But that’s only one of many reasons they should be ashamed.