Vivek Murthy: A surgeon general nominee hijacked by special interests

His is the story of which American dreams are made: a first-generation immigrant who grew up in South Florida, where he worked on weekends to support his father’s small business. After winning a spot at Harvard at 16, he set his sights on medicine and leadership. He founded an international non-profit focused on HIV/AIDS youth education while at Yale for medical school — and threw on an MBA for good measure before heading back to Boston for residency training at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Since then, he’s practiced medicine while working as a serial entrepreneur, starting both private and non-profit organizations in medical research and health advocacy. He wields a blinding smile and a voice that immediately commands a room.

He’s even been to the White House — and he took his mom with him.

In another time and place, a nominee like Dr. Vivek Murthy, with a narrative so akin to conservative politicians like Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, would sail through Senate confirmation as the nation’s surgeon general.

But in our time and place, special interest groups have hijacked Dr. Murthy’s nomination, as they have the entirety of the American political process. As physicians and students of public service, we are aghast.

Under the guise that his mere mention of “gun control” following the Newtown tragedy is akin to repudiation of the Second Amendment, the National Rifle Association has signaled its intense opposition to Dr. Murthy’s nomination. The NRA now promises to “score” a confirmation vote for Murthy as the basis of electoral support in the 2014 midterms – a prospect that has multiple senators wavering in their support. White House rumors suggest that a Senate vote on Dr. Murthy’s nomination will be delayed until after the midterms, in order to protect those candidates who hold the key to a Democratic Senate majority.

As physicians, we are appalled that a candidate of such high caliber – with impeccable credentials, a well-earned reputation as a “doctor’s doctor” and formidable experience in management and leadership – could be derailed for a moderate position on gun violence that aligns with the vast majority of America’s health professionals. (Never mind the fact that Dr. Murthy’s position on gun violence is no different from that of the American Medical Association, or that he explicitly confirmed that obesity, tobacco and mental health — and not gun control — would be his priorities as surgeon general).

As Americans, however, we strongly believe that the NRA’s entry into this debate – and its immediate support by Senator Rand Paul and others – cannot be taken lightly.

Will every qualified public health leader be held to a new standard: that a mere mention of the word “gun” is a disqualifier from public service? This new style of McCarthyism comes at a time when the United States leads the world in gun deaths and 15 months after the tragedy at Newtown. After all, even C. Everett Koop, the legendary surgeon general nominated by Ronald Reagan, described gun violence as a public health emergency.

But in our America, facts such as these have little impact in the national debate. The NRA’s influence — and that of countless special interest groups like it — cannot be ignored.

In our America, sterling qualifications, vast experience and the support of the broad medical and public health community, however, seemingly can.

Ali Khan and Christopher Lillis  are internal medicine physicians.  Sanjay Kishore is medical student. This post originally appeared in WBUR’s CommonHealth.

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  • edpullenmd

    If this was not so typical it would be unbelievable. Politics are so beholden to PAC money that they can’t do their jobs.

  • John C. Key MD

    It’s not just about the guns. No nominee in recent decades deserves opposition as much as Doctor Murthy. Skill as a political operative may be important to Surgeon General, but it should not be the only qualifying factor as it is in his case

  • NormRx

    Oh, what short memories Democrats have. Go back a few years to the Bush administration when President Bush was trying to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit. One in particular was Miguel Estrada, below is a brief summary of his life. Democrats could not allow such a highly qualified minority to sit on the bench since within a few years he could be a candidate for the supreme court. Democrats used the filibuster to derail his nomination and now Harry Reid has changed the rules and eliminated the filibuster. Democrats claim to be a champion of minorities, they are, as long as the minority stays on the Democrat plantation.

    “Miguel Estrada was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. After his parents divorced, he immigrated to the United States to join his mother when he was 17, arriving with a limited command of English.

    He graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor’s degree from Columbia in 1983. He received a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree magna cum laude in 1986 from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. After law school, Estrada served as a law clerk to Judge Amalya Lyle Kearse of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He then clerked for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court during his first year on the Court in 1988. One of his fellow clerks during that year was Peter Keisler,
    another controversial conservative nominee to the D.C. Circuit whose
    nomination was never processed by the Senate Democrats during the 110th Congress.”

    • JR

      Of all the presidential nominees before Obama’s time, there were 68 nominees blocked (most 1950 onwards). As of November 2013, 79 of Obama’s nominees were blocked.

      • NormRx

        Seven Senate Democrats joined Republicans to block President Barack
        Obama’s pick of Debo P. Adegbile to lead the Department of Justice’s
        Civil Rights Division amid a controversy over his legal defense of
        convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.
        The blocking of the nomination of Murthy is also bi-partisan. When your nominations are so radical you cannot even get your own party to support you, there are significant problems in your selection of nominees.

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