Monday, July 16, 2007

SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Serving In The Bush Administration May Be Hazardous To Your Health

You might have caught the House hearing with the three former Surgeon Generals where Dr. Richard Carmona talked about the far-greater politicization of his office during the current administration. Some Bush loyalists have said Carmona is a whiner, or that his office should be abolished, but the Arizona sidelight is that in 2005, Carmona was going to be the Arizona GOP's great not-quite-white hope for the 2006 governor's race once Rick Romney, J. D. Hayworth, and Fife Symington all declined to run. That was, if they couldn't convince Marilyn Quayle to make the race. That's a measure of the Republicans' desperation to find a candidate in 2006; they were driven to consider a Hispanic and a woman. Of course, neither ran, but it's fun to read the reasons why nobody should take Gov. Napolitano's popularity seriously and why Arizona voters would consider replacing her in 2006.

My suggested headline is above, but the editor prefered Bush-whacked (which I thought ran before, but it wasn't; that headline was "Bush's Loyalty Is One-Way Street.") He also took out the White House Travel Office line, which I've put back in, and Sara Taylor's name, which I left out. If you don't know who Sara Taylor is, watch this.

East Valley Tribune, July 15, 2007

Arizona Republicans used to love Dr. Richard Carmona. He has an amazing resume: drops out of high school, joins the Army, serves with distinction as a Green Beret in Vietnam. Gets his GED, goes to medical school, graduates at the top of his class. Works as a paramedic, registered nurse, and physician, and as a medical director, professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, and a Pima County SWAT team member.

President Bush appointed Carmona as Surgeon General in 2002, and he served for 4 years until his four-year term ended last year. He returned to Tucson, where he now works as vice chairman of the high-end Canyon Ranch "life enhancement company." And until last week, Dr. Carmona was quiet. Very quiet.

State Republicans floated Carmona’s name in 2005 and '06 as a candidate for governor based on his resume ("his life story reads like a Hollywood script," enthused the Business Journal of Phoenix) and as a resident of Tucson and a Hispanic who could make inroads into two key Napolitano constituencies. (This was in 2005, when Republicans actually courted Hispanics.) In 2006, GOP insiders also mentioned Carmona as a candidate for the seat of retiring Cong. Jim Kolbe, R-Tucson, won by Cong. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Tucson.

Since returning to Tucson, Carmona said nothing publicly about his service in the Bush administration, which struck many observers as very odd. Prior to his appointment, Carmona had built a reputation, among both supporters and detractors, as a world-class pain in the posterior. His supporters meant that in a good way; if Carmona thought something wasn’t right, he just wouldn’t let it go until he felt it was fixed.

Carmona went public before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week only after talking with two predecessor Surgeon Generals, Drs. Everett Koop and David Satcher. They also had political battles within their administrations -- Koop in making fighting AIDS a priority for the Reagan administration, and Satcher, who lost his effort to have the federal government sponsor needle exchanges for drug users -- but nothing "as partisan, as malicious, as vindictive, as hostile" as Carmona saw.

Carmona testified he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on each page of every speech. He wasn’t allowed to speak freely with reporters. Political appointees tried to insert political slogans and GOP candidates’ names into his talks and requested that he appear in his military uniform at political events.

Carmona was instructed to follow administration policy -- instead of science -- on hot-button issues such as stem-cell research, smoking and health, global warming, sexual education, and prison health. And political appointees took Carmona to the woodshed for asking to give a speech to an organization affiliated with the Special Olympics because of its long-standing ties to the Kennedys. "Why would you want to help those people?" Carmona said he was asked. That’s the Bush administration in a nutshell. Never mind the handicapped kids; what’s the politics of the volunteers?

So Carmona becomes the latest Arizona Republican to have his reputation trashed by serving in the Bush administration. After his testimony, a White House spokeswoman said Carmona hadn’t done his job: "It’s disappointing to us if he failed to use this position to the fullest extent in advocating for policies he thought were in the best interests of the nation." Carmona joins former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, fired by the Bush administration for "poor judgment," "repeated instances of defiance," and "insubordination."

Sure, we’re talking only about U.S. Attorneys and the Surgeon General, who serve at the pleasure of the president. It’s not like these are important jobs, like the White House Travel Office.

In the Bush administration, up is down, politics trumps science, and crippled kids are campaign fodder. If it’s too much even for some Arizona Republicans, for gosh sakes, what does that tell you? Appointees who remember that they swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, not to the President personally, get their Bush reward: having their reputations trashed. Welcome to the doghouse, Dr. Carmona.

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