You heard it in President Obama's speech last night. Obama did not use the phrase 'war on cancer' his promise to cure it in our time, and his invocation of cancer as a disease that touches every American, amounted to a national commitment that is the moral equivalent of war. In Governing through Crime I note that President Nixon declared war on drugs at almost the same moment he declared war on cancer, but he only fought the first. The war on drugs became a central preoccupation of domestic policy over the last forty years, while the war on cancer remained a small research concern.
The right kind of war on cancer could provide a much better project with which to reshape American governance and citizenship then our long war against crime, drugs, and now terrorism. A war on cancer focused on prevention, on environmental causes, and on lifestyle could drive down health costs (instead of driving them up as our current pharmacological war tends to) while encouraging Americans to take a more responsible and realistic view of the risks they face and the role personal decisions can play in managing it.