The Gulf Coast hurricanes have raised new questions about the integrity and competence of the American Red Cross to respond to national emergencies. In this July 1996 report from The Nation archive (originally headlined “Blood on the Campaign Trail”), Linda Heller raised early alarms.
In the spring of 1995 the American Red Cross launched a new advertising campaign for its national blood drive. The campaign included at its center a television public service announcement that depicted an American flag billowing in the wind. As a voice off-camera issued a dire warning–“When the blood runs out, so does life”–the red stripes began to fade from the flag until only the stars remained.
You’re not likely to see this particular announcement or the posters that went with it, however. After thousands of dollars had been spent, the ad campaign was quietly discontinued because the president of the American Red Cross, Elizabeth Hanford Dole, ruled that it was too controversial. Several weeks after the aborted campaign, her husband, Bob Dole, then the front-runner for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination, announced his support of a constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the American flag.
Alone, yanking the flag ad might be viewed as a minor case of Bob Dole’s presidential politics influencing a small decision at Elizabeth Dole’s Red Cross. But a three-month investigation by The Nation has discovered that the flag incident was just one example of a troubling pattern: A series of political conflicts has steadily affected Red Cross decision-making in vital public health areas, such as protecting the nation’s blood supply from disease and training young Americans in how to protect themselves from AIDS.
The Nation investigation found that shortly after her appointment to head the $1.7-billion-a-year charity, Mrs. Dole assembled a special team of longtime political advisers. Their job was to vet important Red Cross actions, both managerial and scientific, with a political sensitivity to what might help or hurt Bob Dole’s presidential ambitions.
When her husband was scrambling for the backing of the Christian Coalition prior to the Republican primaries, Mrs. Dole ordered her allies to rewrite an AIDS prevention manual to cater to Christian right orthodoxies about homosexuality, premarital sex and condom use. Also shoring up Bob Dole’s standing with the Christian right, Elizabeth Dole took to the hustings while in office at the Red Cross to give frequent speeches about her born-again Christian commitment.
Back at Red Cross headquarters in Washington, Mrs. Dole recommended at-large seats on the Red Cross’s prestigious board of governors to Senator Dole’s political contributors and longtime backers, including Inez Andreas, the wife of wealthy agribusiness executive and Dole superbooster Dwayne Andreas.
Mrs. Dole’s special team interfered in day-to-day Red Cross decisions, frustrating the charity’s professional staff and contributing to an exodus of many senior technicians, volunteers and other crucial personnel. Under this politicized leadership, the Red Cross’s much-touted “transformation” program to assure a safer blood supply has fallen short of its goals and behind schedule.