Politics and Competence: Competing Priorities

Additional evidence that the Bush administration tends to prefer political loyalty to independent competence.

As Surgeon General, Richard Carmona also wanted to investigate the mental health consequences for the nation following another major terrorist attack. Now that seems like an eminently sensible idea. Dr. Carmona was told, however, not to bother.

He was told the same thing when he suggested that his department prepare a report on the mental and physical health of prison inmates. The point being that this is a very large population – over two million, as a matter of fact – and a disproportionately high percentage of inmates are HIV positive; and an even higher percentage suffer from emotional problems.

So here you have a high risk population that is in and out of the larger civilian community. Is there the potential of serious health consequences? You would think so.

Again, Surgeon Gen. Carmona was told to leave it alone. The Bush administration also muzzled him on the subjects of stem cell research and second hand smoke and sex education.

On the proactive side, we know know, Dr. Carmona was encouraged to make three references per page to President Bush in his public speeches. Just a wild guess, but I'm assuming that something along the lines of "President Bush and I don't agree on this, but…." wouldn't have counted.

If that sounds familiar, it should.

It happened when political ideologues at appointed to high office at the Pentagon, overruled senior career officers who argued for a much larger invasion force in Iraq. It happened after the invasion when inexperienced young political appointees were put in positions of extraordinary responsibility inside the Green Zone. It happened when political appointees at the Justice Department took a hand in the firing of eight federal prosecutors.

Each time political appointees have been permitted, indeed encouraged, to skew policies in directions that serve ideology over national interest.

The phenomenon is not entirely unknown in Washington; but these folks have taken it to a new level.

After noting that the Surgeon General is "the leading voice for the health of all Americans," a White House spokeswoman added: "It is disappointing to us if Dr. Carmona failed to use this position to the fullest extent in advocating for policies he thought were in the best interests of the nation."

Well, she does have a point: He could have invoked the President's name four times a page.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: