by | Jul 15, 2007 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

We can be a pretty lazy nation, but one thing that gets us riled up is our health, right?

When a baby is sick, look out. When a father or mother isn’t getting good care, we scream. When we find our water is being poisoned, or something we’re ingesting causes cancer, we get angry.

Don’t we?

So why have we been so silent after the former surgeon general of the United States just testified that the Bush administration repeatedly muzzled him, ignored him or told him not to issue reports?

After all, the surgeon general isn’t just a name on a cigarette pack. The job is referred to as the nation’s doctor. And, personally, if I find out my doctor is withholding information, I’m furious.

Yet, according to testimony at his congressional hearing last week, Richard Carmona, who served four years as surgeon general under President George W. Bush, was told not to speak or issue reports about stem cells, sex education, emergency contraception, global health or mental health issues.

The reason, Carmona said, was politics.

“I was told to stay away” from certain issues, he testified, “because we’ve already decided which way we want to go.”


Is there a doctor in the White House?

So Bush, with no medical training whatsoever, can tell the world his view of embryos and stem cells, but the highest doctor in the land cannot?

So Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney can cluck tongues at global warming, but the highest doctor in the land has his tongue tied?

So Bush and Cheney can tell citizens abstinence is the only answer in sex education, but the highest doctor in the land can’t speak about contraceptives?

So tobacco executives can lie on the stand about their product, but the highest doctor in the land is discouraged by the administration from testifying about secondhand smoke?

According to Carmona, this administration not only did all that, it even discouraged him from attending the Special Olympics, because that organization has long been a favorite of the Kennedys. And the Kennedys are not members of Team Bush.

So, disabled kids – too bad.

Wait. There’s more. Carmona testified that some of his reports were shot down because they didn’t glowingly compliment the administration. And he was instructed to mention Bush by name at least three times on every page of his speeches.

(Technically, he could have achieved this by saying, “President Bush doesn’t want me to discuss matters President Bush has already decided on because he’s President Bush.” But I guess that wouldn’t count.)

Who hired these people, anyway?

Excuse the pun, but at what point does this make you sick? How many more Bush administration exes have to come out the door shaking their heads – telling stories of being muzzled or fired over speaking the truth – before we accept that the nation is being run by political bullies?

And save your breath about “Bush hating.” That’s a great trick for shooting the messengers. “Ah, you can’t trust them; they’re just Bush haters.”Except it makes no sense. Like Colin Powell, Michael Brown and a laundry list of former military and economic staffers who have questioned the president, Carmona was chosen by this administration. Sorry. You can’t select your team then call it the enemy. Pick a lane and drive it.

Now, even more than most, the surgeon general should have no political interference. It’s a doctor’s position. If a doctor is to warn Americans about health issues, he can’t worry that the boss has ties to the tobacco industry, the alcohol industry, drug companies, oil companies or a particular religious view.

You want to muzzle an aide? Hardly news. A press secretary? It has been done. But a surgeon general with his hands over his eyes, ears and mouth? Where is our anger now?

We better show some. Otherwise, forget cigarettes. Pretty soon it’ll be the White Houses that should come with a warning: May be hazardous to your health.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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