Jewish World Review Sept. 26, 2002 / 20 Tishrei, 5763
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | More than 10 million people on Saturday watched the crowning of the best woman to repair the tarnished image of the nation's premier beauty pageant-and the new Miss America may do the same for conservatives before too long.
There are no topless photos floating around of the new Miss America, Erika Harold, because she'd never put herself in that position-she is a leading advocate of abstinence and embraces her own virginity with enthusiasm.
Erika is a collection of contradictions: a Miss America who refuses society's conventions about beautiful people basking in promiscuity, a Mensa-caliber intellectual who communicates simple messages free of condescension, and a true conservative who embodies the "compassionate" without forsaking the "conservative."
I had the privilege of interviewing the new Miss America, Erika Harold, this April, when she was an in-studio guest on a nationally-syndicated talk radio show. After she thoroughly trounced the safe-sex advocate on the air, she and I talked for a couple hours over a cup of coffee.
After chatting with Erika for just a few minutes, it is easy to understand why the USA Today last week dubbed her "the smart one". Her graceful eloquence on a whole slew of political topics is most uncommon for a 22-year-old, but then again, that probably helps explain why she's headed to Harvard Law next year after her reign as Miss America ends.
Ironically, she thought of calling it quits a year ago on the pageant life altogether, convinced that judges would never crown an outspoken conservative Miss Illinois. She told me two months before the state pageant that she strongly doubted she would win the state title, let alone the national one.
Aside from her work promoting abstinence to teens through the group Project Reality, Erika has dabbled in politics already. She worked for the Illinois gubernatorial campaign of Republican state Sen. Patrick O'Malley, whose primary passion was defending the unborn-and she is just as strongly pro-life as the candidate.
But Erika eschews fire-and-brimstone conservativism, and instead opts for offering positive messages that people can actually act on. Although she shuns racial spoils that could benefit her-the media has already hyped the fact that she fills out "other" on the race question on the Census despite being part black and part native American-she does not rail against affirmative action. While sparing no criticism of the racial elites, she emphasizes the steps necessary to achieve true color-blindness.
There is no stronger proof to her commitment to principle than her platform for the Miss Illinois pageant this June. Though some liberal judges at past pageants had acted with borderline hostility toward her stance on abstinence, Erika stuck to her guns and maintained her platform that openly challenges the politically correct safe-sex orthodoxy-a move that she knew would hinder her chances for victory.
For reasons owing to internal pageant politics, Erika signed onto Illinois' violence prevention platform for the national contest. While it's not as trite as pushing "world peace," it's certainly not as gutsy as telling teens to resist their unbridled sex drives. But here's why Erika will shine as a politician: she is cunning enough to know that you can't talk to teens about violence without discussing the risk factors that contribute to dangerous behavior: drugs, alcohol, and yes, teen sex.
If the Miss America pageant is serious about reclaiming its lost luster, it should grant Erika wide latitude in delivering her message to the nation's youths. But the sad fact is that even if she receives the much-deserved freedom to speak from her heart, the media likely will pay the abstinence issue no mind. The real loser in such a media blackout, though, would be the teens who have few other opportunities to hear such a positive and heartening message.
Given that Erika proudly avoided the glamorized lifestyle that annually turns three million teens into victims of STDs-and wants to help others take the safe path-it looks like Erika really is "the smart one."
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09/23/02: Tax Cuts, R.I.P.