Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sanjay Gupta for surgeon general?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The WaPo's Howard Kurtz is reporting that Obama has asked celebrity tele-Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he of CNN and CBS fame, to be the new surgeon general.

Now, I'm in no position to question Gupta's abilities as a neurosurgeon or otherwise his medical qualifications. He may very well be an excellent doctor, as he seems to be (he performed brain surgery during the Iraq invasion in 2003). Furthermore, there is no doubt that he is telegenic and that he would make an excellent spokesman for public health issues. And, indeed, what's needed in that position is not so much expertise in medicine as the ability to communicate effectively with the broader public, that is, to inform and teach through the media. (Think C. Everett Koop and his anti-smoking campaign in the '80s.) In this regard, the media-friendly Gupta, a man who is clearly comfortable in front of the camera, seems to be an excellent pick for the job.

And yet.

It seems to me that what is needed in a surgeon general is also someone who can make the case for, or at least someone who is supportive of, a reformed public health care system, given that this seems to be, as many of us hope it genuinely is, one of Obama's main policy priorities. But is Gupta an advocate of such reform? I have my doubts. As he exposed in his critique of Michael Moore's movie Sicko back in July 2007, he seems to be very much a part of, as well as a defender of, the status quo, namely, the corporatized health care system controlled by Big Pharma and the HMOs. As I put it then, he picked apart Moore's movie, avoided subjecting the existing system and/or Moore's critics to similar evaluation, and failed to address the most serious flaws of the American system, namely, the enormous costs even to those with insurance and the utter lack of insurance for millions." So is this really the man who should be the spokesman for public health in the United States?

I see that my friend Steve Benen, while acknowledging (but not making much of) the Moore incident (which occurred on CNN, no less), thinks that Gupta "seems like a strong choice," given that he "would likely be the highest-profile official since Koop, and could conceivably play a valuable role in advancing a reform campaign." Well, maybe. And -- yet again, yet again -- I'm wondering if I should -- yet again, yet again -- give Obama the benefit of the doubt and trust that he knows what he's doing, that all will work out. Like Krugman, though, I just can't quite get past Gupta's "mugging" of Moore -- and that he got it wrong.

Should one ugly high-profile incident like this disqualify him? Maybe not, and, like I said, he undeniably has a lot going for him. For example, as Kurtz notes -- and this I did not know -- "[h]e was a White House fellow in the late 1990s, writing speeches and crafting policy for Hillary Clinton." That certainly inspires greater confidence, but I need to know more about his position on health care reform, as well as on the existing system that has left millions of Americans uninsured, and about his willingness to work with and in support of soon-to-be health czar and HHS Secretary Tom Daschle, before giving Obama the benefit of the doubt and approving this questionable appointment.

It would be good for the U.S. to have a prominent, highly visible, charismatic, and telegenic surgeon general at a time of reform, not to mention in case of public health emergencies. It's just not clear to me that Gupta is the right choice.


Labels: , , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


  • Michael, I must say that you are the first person I've read who has made the case against Gupta in any way shape or form, and thank you.

    I've seen a lot of angst about this choice, I suspect it's leftist indignation over yet another white bread pick, and yet, no one has made any claim that Gupta would be bad for health care in the US. Until I read your post.

    That said, who else would you see as Surgeon General?

    By Blogger Carl, at 10:32 AM  

  • Thank you, Carl. It's not just the dust-up with Moore that did it for me (after all, I had problems with Sicko as well, notably its glorification of Cuba and its misrepresentation of the Canadian health-care system), it's that Gupta, as smart and well-spoken as he is, is part of the problem that needs to be fixed. A friend of mine describes him as a center-right ideologue, and that might just be right. Maybe he'll back Obama and Daschle on reform, but, thus far, he's show no willingness to reform a system that has served him so well.

    I don't know enough about the U.S. medical establishment to suggest another candidate for the job, but surely there is someone at the CDC or at a leading research hospital or who has been a progressive public health advocate who is qualified. Surely there are many who are qualified, even if they lack Gupta's celebrity status and TV appeal.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 10:57 AM  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:49 PM  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:21 AM  

  • This is the latest and hottest ghd styler ever. If you need a ghd hair straighteners, this is a must buyghd hair straighteners,cheap ghd hair straighteners,pink ghd hair straightenersghd straightenerspink ghd hair straightenersComme vous pouvez le voir, il s'agit d'une paire de chaussures shox classique . Si vous souhaitez poursuivre la mode, nike shox NZ sont votre meilleu…nike tnCette paire de Nike Shox Torch est chaud en maintenant la demande.nike chaussures
    tn chaussures

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:21 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home