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The Tumor in the War on Cancer

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Gen. George S. Patton said, “Politicians are the lowest form of life on earth.” Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find a group of people more eager to take advantage of others’ misfortunes to increase their own power and inflate their own egos than our so-called public servants. When it comes to exploiting tragedies, they are shameless.

For a prime example one doesn’t need to look any further than Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Basking in glorious mainstream media coverage for having switched from the Republican wing of the Government Party to its Democratic wing — purely to save his own skin in this year’s primary election, or so he hopes — Specter used the occasion of the death of a former colleague to stump for increased federal funding of medical research. In a May 3 appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation, Specter told Bob Schieffer, “If we had pursued what President Nixon declared in 1970 as the war on cancer, we would have cured many strains. I think Jack Kemp [who died of cancer on May 2, 2009] would be alive today. And that research has saved or prolonged many lives, including mine.”

In other words, “You selfish taxpayers killed Jack Kemp by not being willing to hand over enough of your hard-earned money to Uncle Sam so that he, in turn, could dole it out to selfless cancer researchers. Furthermore, you are also responsible for seeing to it that I am spared the same fate; and if I have to switch parties to make that happen, then so be it.”

Now, does Specter really think that a full-fledged federal “war on cancer … would have cured many strains” by now? As a long-time member of the parasite class in Washington, he probably does. However, let’s consider a few of the federal government’s other “wars” to see just what the likely outcome of a “war on cancer” would be.

The other “wars”

The war on poverty, declared by Lyndon Johnson in 1964, has thus far cost taxpayers well over $10 trillion and continues to soak them to the tune of about a trillion dollars a year, an amount almost certain to increase, given that liberal Democrats are in control of both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. What do we have to show for this enormous expenditure? The number of poor people in America remains essentially unchanged from what it was in 1964, although given a speedily growing population that means that the poverty rate has fallen somewhat, from 19 percent to about 13 percent. The American family has been blown to smithereens, as Uncle Sam has taken over the role of provider, with illegitimacy at unheard-of rates, especially among blacks. That’s not much progress — and more than a little regress — to show for 46 years and $10 trillion.

The war on drugs, yet another of Nixon’s unconstitutional wars, has cost Americans and foreigners incalculable sums in lives, liberties, and property. The Office of National Drug Control Policy alone will run up a tab of $14 billion this year. Overall federal and state expenditures on the war on drugs run to some $50 billion annually. Add to that the costs of prosecuting and incarcerating those arrested on drug offenses — roughly 25 percent of all those sentenced each year.

Then there are the costs in liberty: The drug war has eviscerated the Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments and has militarized and federalized state and local law enforcement. Having found the attempt to curb the drug supply on the domestic level insufficient, the feds have ventured abroad, toppling or bribing unfriendly governments, installing friendly ones, and making war on the populations of foreign countries, all in a vain attempt to reduce the supply of drugs entering the United States. They have, however, succeeded in raising the prices of those very substances, thus encouraging more people to become drug dealers and smugglers. Meanwhile, illegal drugs are still widely available, but the increased cost in turn leads addicts to resort to crime in order to feed their habits and drug gangs to engage in violent wars to protect their well-paying turf. In other words, it’s Prohibition all over again, only magnified many times over — a war guaranteed to be lost no matter how much time, energy, and money is poured into it.

Then there’s the war on terror: $864 billion thus far, with Congressional Budget Office estimates through fiscal year 2018 as high as $1.7 trillion. As of this writing nearly 5,000 American lives have been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, with thousands more physically or psychologically wounded; hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan lives have been lost; hundreds of prisoners have been held without charges or hearings, some of them tortured; and Americans’ liberties have been further destroyed by means of the USA PATRIOT Act, illegal wiretapping of telephone calls, the president’s declaring people “enemy combatants” and imprisoning them indefinitely, and the Department of Homeland Security with its ridiculous color-coded threat levels and invasive airport searches and maddening rules.

One might argue that despite all these negatives the war on terror must be judged a success because there hasn’t been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 2001, but then there were eight terrorism-free years between the first World Trade Center attack of 1993 and the infamous one of 2001. At the same time, the U.S. government has undoubtedly made more enemies for itself by invading Iraq, which posed no threat to it and had nothing to do with 9/11, and by engaging in the mistreatment of prisoners with the blessing and encouragement of people at the highest echelons. Both President Obama and his critics have made this point clear by their statements that releasing photographs of U.S. soldiers’ and agents’ abuse of prisoners would inflame anti-American sentiment among Muslims. The war on terror is far from an unqualified success; like the wars on poverty and drugs, it is likely to continue for decades with ever-increasing costs and ever-diminishing returns.

Clearly, the federal government’s other “wars” have been less than resounding successes. Why, then, would Specter expect a “war on cancer” to be any more successful?

Why funding fails

Newsweek made this very point in a 2008 article titled “We Fought Cancer … and Cancer Won.” “Since 1971,” wrote Sharon Begley, “the federal government, private foundations and companies have spent roughly $200 billion on the quest for cures” with little to show for it. “[Progress] has been wildly uneven,” she continued, with death rates from many cancers continuing to rise and cancer “poised to surpass cardiovascular disease and become America’s leading killer.” Though Begley didn’t break down the $200 billion in research funding by source, she did make it abundantly clear that most of the groundbreaking research is performed with private funding: “Indeed, there is no more common refrain among critics of how the war on cancer has been waged: that innovative ideas, ideas that might be grand slams but carry the risk of striking out, are rejected by [the National Cancer Institute (NCI)] in favor of projects that promise singles.” In other words, the war on cancer is just like every other government program: heavy on promises and light on results, stultified by bureaucratic inertia.

Specter, however, is not deterred. In fact, on his website, specterforthecure.com, he proposes to create yet another bureaucracy, the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN), to bypass the traditional NCI approval process and “to accelerate the development of cures and treatments” for cancer. Yes, Specter is, by the mere passage of a law, going to do what no previous government official has ever been able to do, namely create a bureaucracy that is not slow, plodding, and dedicated to “safe,” conventional projects. He also has a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.

In addition, Specter proposes to increase the baseline for NCI funding to $40 billion a year and brags that its budget has grown during his tenure on the Senate Appropriations Committee from $12 billion to $30 billion (plus $10 billion more in the “stimulus” bill). CAN itself will be budgeted $2 billion to start if Specter has his way.

The sharp-eyed reader will note that nowhere on his website does Specter propose spending any of his own fortune, estimated to be anywhere from $2.8 million to $11.8 million in 2007, on research into his personal ailment. Why should he, when he can force everyone from Bill Gates down to the lowliest minimum-wage-earning high-school student to do it for him? It’s good to be king — or at least senator.

As long as the war on cancer is fought by the government with money extracted from Americans by force, it is as much doomed to waste, fraud, high costs, and failure as the feds’ wars on poverty, drugs, and terror. Researchers will continue to receive grants on the basis of their having produced immediate results that can then be used to justify an increase in funding for the next fiscal year, rather than on the long-term potential of their research. Government funds are inevitably directed toward political ends; private funds are directed toward meeting the needs of individuals, for there is no other way to earn a profit in the free market.

If Specter really wants a cure for cancer to be found, it lies in ending the federal war on cancer, getting rid of the Food and Drug Administration and dozens of other federal regulatory agencies, getting the federal government out of the health-insurance business, and also reducing taxes and spending. With all that liberty and capital returned to the private sector, an explosion of research into all sorts of maladies, including cancer, is likely to result.

The federal government is the tumor eating away at the search for cancer cures. Successfully excising it from the body is the only way to bring about true healing.

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    Michael Tennant is a software developer and freelance writer.