Muzzling your Surgeon General is not the best way to boost your approval rating

Posted on July 11, 2007

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Dr. Richard Carmona, President Bush’s Surgeon General from 2002 to 2006, testified yesterday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the Bush Administration interfered with his duties as the nation’s doctor (Reuters story).

“Anything that doesn’t fit into the political appointees’ ideological, theological or political agenda is ignored, marginalized or simply buried…. 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. The job of surgeon general is to be the doctor of the nation, not the doctor of a political party.

In fact, according to the NPR story:

Carmona spent most of his last year unsuccessfully trying to issue a report that he and his staff had written on global health.

“And there was no nebulousness,” Carmona said. “I was told, ‘This will be a political document or you are not going to release it.’ And I refused to release it because I would not put the political rhetoric into that document that they wanted, because it would tarnish the office of the surgeon general when our colleagues saw us taking a political stand.”

As Dr. Carmona said, the public expects government institutions like the Surgeon General’s office – or the FBI, the Justice Department, and the FDA – to be run relatively without significant partisan interference by the President’s staff and appointees. The people of the United States seem to generally understand that some issues need to be decided exclusively on the basis of evidence, not political ideology. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has acquired a reputation for putting ideology over national interest. This has led to a dramatic worsening of the public’s perception of the credibility of the U.S. government itself.

Thankfully, Rep. Henry Waxman’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is working to apply oversight to the Bush Administration and, in the process, make the Congress credible again. This is a good start. Until the federal government is viewed as credible again, the United States will not be able to recreate the effective government needed in order to make progress on major issues such as effectively reforming public education, bolstering our diplomatic position in the world, and addressing global heating, to list just a few.

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