A number of voices have weighed in following this months revelation that Surgeon General Richard Cormona had been subject to widespread political restrictions from the White House during his 2002-2006 tenure. Many have held up the story as another example of politics and bias getting in the way of reality-based problem solving — the Kaiser Family Foundation has even collected some of the editorials, and provides summaries.
Of course, the Washington Machine being what it is, we now have the inevitable backlash. Accordingly, Fox News is attacking the messenger.
It may, indeed, be a fair point to accuse the Bush administration of politicizing science. But Richard Carmona isn’t the person to make it. Carmona’s entire term as surgeon general has been marked by embracing every last hobgoblin promoted by the public health movement, generally above and beyond what the science says. Sometimes in spite of it. …
The critique is fairly libertarian: negative effects of marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol are overhyped, and were overhyped by Carmona.
This argument may hold water. But note the way it is wielded:
The Office of Surgeon General always has been overtly political, a captive of the most hysterical public health activists. Its only real powers are tongue-clucking and finger-wagging, usually about the latest moral panic, lecturing the American public to knock off its bad habits, lest somebody get hurt. Richard Carmona’s tenure was no different, which is why it’s laughable to hear him lecture someone else about science.
It’s kind of like Anita Hill: These revelations are disturbing, and in order to distract from them, I will attack you.
This technique is not new. One recent example is that taken by Republican Party spokespeople immediately following the Lewis Libby commutation. That afternoon, spokespersons (followed by pundits) attempted to immediately stir conversation away from the matter at hand by asking “How does this compare to Clinton’s pardons?” Similarly, rather than ask “What does it mean for our government to try to solve complex science and health problems without fully understanding the problem and with some possible solutions off the table?” or
“What is a government that hushes its experts afraid of exposing?” or even
“”What does it mean that we have an Executive that demands to be mentioned three times per page of speech?”
We’re hearing forces saying “who said that?”
Maybe, as Radley Balko suggests in the Fox News column, the former Surgeon General has his own skeletons in the closet. But that doesn’t mean the red flags he raised should be ignored. Let’s stick to the questions at hand.