Warning: Rant ahead.
Good lord, does it ever stop? Words fail.
[Twitch.] [Twitch.] [Facial tic.]
OK, words are beginning to return. If you didn’t click the link yet, it’s about the testimony, yesterday, of Dr. Richard Carmona, surgeon general from 2000 to 2006. It turns out — brace yourself for a revelation sure to shock — that even the office of the so-called nation’s doctor is not safe from the black hole of evil that is Karl Rove…oh, hell. The black hole of evil that is this entire administration. Ahem:
“Anything that doesn’t fit into the political appointees’ ideological, theological or political agenda is often ignored, marginalized or simply buried,” he said. “The problem with this approach is that in public health, as in a democracy, there is nothing worse than ignoring science or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds.”
As you may suspect, among the things that didn’t fit into the political agenda were embryonic stem-cell research, questioning the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex-ed programs, secondhand smoke, even global warming research. But the whipped cream on the cake had to be this exchange (from an NYT story, not the one linked above):
And administration officials even discouraged him from attending the Special Olympics because, he said, of that charitable organization’s longtime ties to a “prominent family” that he refused to name.
“I was specifically told by a senior person, ‘Why would you want to help those people?’ ” Dr. Carmona said.
The Special Olympics is one of the nation’s premier charitable organizations to benefit disabled people, and the Kennedys have long been deeply involved in it.
When asked after the hearing if that “prominent family” was the Kennedys, Dr. Carmona responded, “You said it. I didn’t.”
Yes, don’t make an appearance at the nation’s premier event for the developmentally disabled. You don’t want to help “those people.”
Like most Americans, I never gave a thought to the surgeon general unless I was lighting a cigarette, until C. Everett Koop came along. Dr. Frank, my old buddy, considers Koop a personal hero, and explained why one day over lunch, although it should be obvious to anyone who remembers the Reagan administration. Koop, the proverbial “deeply religious” doc, a pediatric surgeon, found himself occupying the office during what would become the most profound public-health crisis of the latter half of the 20th century, and perhaps all of the 21st — AIDS. There was a lot of loose talk about God’s punishment and quarantines and maybe even detention camps. William F. Buckley made his notorious suggestion about buttock-tattooing to indicate the HIV-positive, if you recall. What a time it was.
And Koop, who could very well have gone along with all of this, issued a report. It contained the words “anal sex” and “condom” and other things polite people didn’t talk about. It also advocated AIDS education in public schools. He thought it would be a good idea if we instructed people — yes, even young, unmarried people — on the proper use of condoms. This made him few friends in the administration, but Reagan supported him. He even supported him when he called smoking “as addictive as heroin” and changed the warnings on cigarette packs from “may be hazardous to your health” to “causes cancer.”
For all of this, Dr. Frank admired Koop greatly. He was unafraid to speak uncomfortable truths, but most of all, he upheld the doctor’s core value: He placed the welfare of his patients — in this case, the whole country — ahead of his personal attitudes and beliefs. (This was a big thing for Frank, who is a pulmonologist. Every day in his practice, he saw people who willingly consumed the poison that was killing them, who wouldn’t even go outside so their asthmatic kid wouldn’t suffer. The urge to punctuate medical advice with a few brisk smacks to the jaw must have been overwhelming. But it also made him nod in agreement when Koop said that part about heroin.)
Koop left big shoes to fill, and I don’t think anyone really has. But the shoes have been there. And yes, in the interest of fairness, I will say that Bill Clinton screwed over his own surgeon general. Everyone with half a brain knew what Joycelyn Elders was saying when she said masturbation should be taught in schools. She wasn’t advocating wanking lessons and instructional videos. She was saying that maybe kids should be told the truth about masturbation. It was political cowardice to hang her out to dry.
But that was nothing compared to this. It is perhaps naive to expect politicians not to be politicians, but tell that to a person with a chronic disease hoping for a stem cell-based treatment in his or her lifetime, who might appreciate a little straight talk on the subject. The country that gave the world the Salk vaccine long ago ceded its scientific leadership in this field. Guess who’s rushing into the vacuum, luring the world’s top scientists to do research in their friendly country? Singapore. Have a nice day.
OK, rant over. Let’s go straight to the bloggage before I start sweating.
I wonder how the president of Chevrolet felt, after last night’s All-Star Game, having to hand the keys to his all-American hybrid SUV to a Japanese guy named Suzuki? Probably pretty good. It was a great performance.
I know, intellectually at least, that every day could be my last. I’ve been guilty of a morbid interest in strange, sudden deaths, if only because it usually motivates me to clean out my underwear drawer. Some deaths are worse than others, however; this one has to be one of the top five. And I’m not talking about the people in the plane; I’m talking about the people in the houses. Of course we heard the 911 tapes from the neighborhood on the late news; I know you will be as astonished as I was to learn that the people sound panicked and upset. “News,” you know.
Now I’m in the proper mood for aggressive journalism. I pick up my lance, and off to the home office.