During the State of the Union Message that helped propel Bill Clinton’s approval ratings to surreal levels, the president said he would attack what he described as “the gravest health threat facing America’s young people.”

What was he talking about? Guns in the schools? No. The skyrocketing rate of drug abuse by teens? No. The unusually high incidence of deep depression among kids that too often leads to suicide? No.

While those are all serious threats, they were not what Bill Clinton had in mind. He was referring to every parent’s worst nightmare — teen-age experimentation with smoking cigarettes.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want my kids to smoke any more than the next guy. But is Bill Clinton really that clueless to think that American parents lie awake at night dreading the possibility that their kids might begin smoking tobacco? Smoking is dangerous, after all, but it takes awhile before it kill you, if it ever does.

No, Clinton is not stupid. But the problem, as sage cultural analyst and radio talk-show host Michael Medved points out, is that he can’t really talk about the leading health-care threat to young people in America — at least not without being laughed off the podium.

You see, the real No. 1 health threat to young people in this country is irresponsible sexual behavior — something with which Mr. Clinton has more than a little first-hand experience.

The country is facing an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases that, in some cases, rivals infection rates in Third World nations.

Between 10 and 12 million new cases of STD are reported each year in the United States — 80 times the number of all new cases of HIV, AIDS and tuberculosis combined. One in five of all Americans over the age of 12 have genital herpes, a 30 percent increase from 20 years ago. The rate among white teen-agers has risen five-fold.

A three-year survey at Rutgers University found 60 percent of female students had contracted human papilloma virus. While rates of syphilis and gonorrhea have declined in recent years, they still exceed those of any other developed nation.

In New York, the biggest problem is clamydia, where teen-agers account for 40 percent of the 25,000 new cases each year.

One reason the STD epidemic has flourished is that public health officials and politicians seeking votes have pandered to the AIDS lobby. While the AIDS epidemic is real and serious, what the politicized scientists and researchers have missed is the relationship between AIDS and STDs.

It seems people infected by gonorrhea, syphilis, clamydia or herpes are two to five times more likely to contract HIV, largely because these diseases often cause open sores which facilitate transmission of the virus.

And that’s just the physical cost of irresponsible sexual behavior by young people. What about the emotional costs? What about the pregnancies and the abortions? This is the stuff that keeps America’s parents awake at night.

But Bill Clinton couldn’t talk about that. Why? Because he has no moral authority to do so. He is like a teen-ager in heat himself — unable or unwilling to control his passions and lusts, even when they jeopardize national security and his own presidency.

Even if you don’t agree with me that irresponsible sex represents the most serious health crisis facing young people today, you would probably say that it is a close No. 2 to the drug problem. Whoops! Bill Clinton can’t really talk about that one, either — not after admitting he smoked pot, being linked to credible reports of cocaine abuse himself and for, shall we say, an unhealthy “tolerance” for drug dealers in his home state. Since Clinton assumed the presidency, the rate of drug use by young people has doubled.

This is just one more reason, Medved says correctly, that Bill Clinton has to go. He can’t even begin to address one of the most critical issues facing the country. He has abdicated his “bully pulpit” on the need for our society and culture to stress responsibility, decency and righteousness.

Smoking is a much easier and safer target for Clinton. The sad part is that, once again, the so-called “opposition” in Washington is letting him skate. They are not calling the president on his misplaced priorities. They are missing one more golden opportunity to present a real alternative political, social and moral agenda to the American people.

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