Following the incriminating testimony of former Surgeon General Richard Carmona last week, the Bush administration issued an immediate press release, which asserted that Carmona was under the influence of emergency contraceptives at the time of the hearing, rendering him incompetent. The release then said Voldemort is to blame for teen pregnancy in America, but everything’s OK because the White House already responded accordingly by raising the alert level to fire-engine red.
What? It’s not like I claimed that Dick Cheney was his own branch of the federal government or something silly like that.
With the overwhelming number of scandals that have plagued the Bush administration since election night 2000, our numbness to revelations like Carmona’s latest testimony is not surprising. But whether Americans react or not, our country is faced with yet another political controversy that leaves me wondering where Ken Starr is now.
As Carmona informed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last Tuesday, the Bush administration repeatedly manipulated and stifled scientific reports from the Office of the Surgeon General, as well as the former Surgeon General himself, during his term from 2002 to 2006. Fearing that scientific reason might finally trump political platitudes, the administration prevented Carmona from speaking on apparently trivial public matters like emergency contraception, stem cells and secondhand smoke.
Refusing to be outed without a fight, spokesman Bill Hall of the Department of Health and Human Services commented on behalf of the White House: “It has always been this administration’s position that public health policy should be rooted in sound science.”
I can almost hear the creationists and global-warming naysayers murmuring in agreement.
For the sake of full disclosure, Dr. C. Everett Koop of the Reagan administration and Dr. David Satcher of the Clinton administration also testified at the hearing. Both said that they had also encountered administration interference on the AIDS epidemic and the effectiveness of needle-exchange programs, respectively. But the responses of the former surgeons general to such discouragement differed from that of their colleague: Both men released reports on the subjects anyway.
During the hearing, Carmona blamed political naivety for his failure to disregard the administration and do his job, saying it was not until he consulted (not one, not two, but) six former surgeons general that he realized something was wrong. Top officials edited his speeches, removing politically unpalatable facts and adding praise for the administration. His attempts at illuminating problems within the correctional health care system were thwarted by the administration’s unwillingness to spend more money on prisoners. And to prevent his testimony, the administration even told the government lawyer in the case against the tobacco companies that its surgeon general was incompetent.
As much as I would like to blame Carmona for failing to honor his duty to the people, my problems with him all trace back to the administration that appointed him its puppet. I’ve had enough. For seven years, the Bush administration has insulted our intelligence, abusing the notion that questioning our leaders is unpatriotic, especially in a time of war. If anything, Americans have learned that not questioning this administration is dangerous.
Through the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and an awkward neck rub for German chancellor Angela Merkel, we’ve let President Bush get away with things for which China would execute a man. The Democratic victory in 2006 seems like a good start, but only if the Democrats manage to steer clear of squabbling and choose a decent candidate – preferably, one who will put the common good before politics.
Emmarie Huetteman is the summer associate editorial page editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.