Surgeon general nominee foiled by NRA weaponocracy

     Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next U.S. Surgeon General, prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, before the  Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

    Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next U.S. Surgeon General, prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

    In a more rational world, a world not governed by fear and cowardice, the new U.S. surgeon general would be Vivek Murthy, a Yale-educated doctor affiliated with the Harvard Medical School, a guy whose steller creds have been vetted and praised by every major health organization. But the problem is, the NRA doesn’t like him. So he’s road kill.

    Such is life in the American weaponocracy, as enforced by the pro-gun commissars, who have apparently decreed that anyone who favors gun reform – anyone who even utters that viewpoint in public – shall be disqualified for federal office. And a fatal number of quivering Senate Democrats will ensure that this is so.

    President Obama’s nominee isn’t officially toast; to borrow a Watergate phrase, Murthy is merely twisting in the wind – until he probably takes the hint and withdraws his name. This is one of those stories where the news is the absence of action, the perpetuation of limbo. All because the NRA says that Murthy’s views on guns (views that have nothing to do with the surgeon general job) constitute wrongthink.

    Prior to the Obama era, presidents were generally allowed to choose their teammates. After all, elections have consequences. Ronald Reagan ticked off liberals in 1981 when he tapped Philadelphian C. Everett Koop as his surgeon general – stop the presses! a conservative president picked an anti-abortion nominee – but Koop was nevertheless confirmed by the Senate, 60-24. Twelve years later, Bill Clinton ticked off conservatives when he tapped Joycelyn Elders for the job – stop the presses! a liberal president picked someone who supported contraceptives for sexually active teens – but Elders was neverthless confirmed, 65-34.

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    Well, those days are over.

    Apparently it doesn’t matter that Vivek Murthy, an internist at the top-notch Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a Harvard Med School teacher, has been endorsed by (among others) the American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Hospital Association, and the American Public Health Association. Nor does it matter that Murthy co-founded a nonprofit group that has been working since 1995 to fight HIV/AIDS, or that he launched a software technology company that aims to improve the efficiency of clinical trials. Nor does it matter that Murthy stated, during his Senate confirmation hearing, that his prime mission as the nation’s top health officer would be to educate the public about obesity.

    All that matters, apparently, is his wrongthink about guns.

    The surgeon general has no power to actually do anything about guns, so Murthy’s views are just views. Basically, he wishes that they were not so readily attainable (shocking!). As he remarked during his confirmation hearing, “My concerns with regard to issues like gun violence have to do with my experience as a physician – seeing patients in emergency rooms.” In fact, he has prodded fellow physicians to ask young patients whether there are guns in their homes – a standard practice, according to the National Physicians Alliance.

    But what particularly bugs the NRA – and terrifies red-state Democratic senators who live in fear of the NRA – is that Murthy views gun violence as a public health issue. (With 30,000 annual gun deaths and 80,000 annual gun woundings, I can’t imagine where he got that idea.) In the past Murthy has also spoken favorably about banning assault weapons, and expanding background checks on gun buyers. He also heads a group for Doctors for America, which, in a former iteration, was called Doctors for Obama. (Stop the presses, a twice-elected president nominated a guy who supported his election.)

    Murthy’s prominent medical creds mean squat; to the NRA and its allies, he’s just an “anti-gun radical.” On Fox News (natch), he’s just “a partisan physician” who’s “hell bent on treating a constitutional freedom like a disease.” And sure enough, red-state Democrats (especially the ones running for re-election this year) have fled for the hills. Under Senate rules, it only takes a simply majority to confirm Murthy, but the cowardice of as many as 10 Democrats virtually seals his fate. Gee, if only Murthy had refrained from uttering wrongthink – views ancillary to the job, views informed by his experiences in bloody operating rooms – his confirmation would be a cinch.

    What a farce. To quote Paul Barrett, a Business Week editor and author of a recent book on the history of the Glock, “It seems preposterous that Murthy’s attitudes toward guns – views roughly similar to those of the twice-elected president – may preclude him from federal office. It would be no less silly if abortion rights advocates killed a Republican nomination of a distinguished four-star general to be chairman of the Pentagon’s joint chiefs of staff, based solely on his opposition to abortion.”

    True that. We can all disagree on whether or how gun access can or should be curbed, but the real issue here is whether a highly credentialed doctor deserves to be derailed because he dares offend the weaponocracy. The price of wrongthink is way too high.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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