The Constitution’s Framers, who naïvely believed their grand experiment would eschew partisan politics–they did not even anticipate the formation of parties–might have had their checks and balances unhinged had they heard the Congressional testimony of former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, who served in George W. Bush’s Administration for one term, from 2002 to 2006. After his testimony, we know why he was not asked to return.
Partisan politics pervades our national bureaucracy, enforced and supervised with what smacks of a full-blown political commissar system. The White House has deployed a far-flung raft of apparatchiks, apparently reporting to Karl Rove at Political Central. Carmona revealed their shadowy workings. They appear in the organization charts as “chiefs of staff” or simply “aides,” situated to ensure that the White House’s political needs trump policy considerations.
Recent revelations of firings of US Attorneys have seen once-anonymous, woefully inexperienced folks such as Kyle Sampson, Monica Goodling and Paul McNulty–and their White House contacts, like Rove’s aide, Sara Taylor–exposed as political operatives.
Carmona offered a carefully calibrated account of the Administration’s insistence that politics trumps science and wise social policies–but without publicly naming names. He testified that Bush officials weakened or suppressed public health reports to suit their political agenda. He was prohibited from making any speeches or reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, global health, public health of the prison population or mental health issues. The Surgeon General’s report on the dangers of secondhand smoke was delayed for years. Dr. Carmona was expected to support Republican candidates and to attend political briefings. When the stem cells issue emerged, he said that “I was told to stand down and not speak about it.” And he had to submit his speeches to vetting and–call it by the right name–censorship; specifically, any remarks on stem cell issues were removed from his speeches.
Carmona asserted that the apparatchiks insisted he mention the President three times on every page of his speeches–what substantive information could he offer with such a requirement? The Stalinist Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu required his scientists to mention his name and his wife, Elena, in their speeches or papers. So far, we have no known requirement that Laura Bush receive equal time.
The New York Times dutifully carried the Administration’s rejoinders. A Department of Health and Human Services spokesman disagreed with Carmona, predictably noting that the Administration believed “public health policy should be rooted in sound science.” A White House spokeswoman turned the doctor’s testimony on its head when she bemoaned his failure “to use his position to the fullest extent” to advocate policies he thought served the nation’s best interests. Carmona probably has been in the Administration’s gun sights since he was forced out.