Ratings Rule in Obama's "Virtual" Cabinet
Will Gupta's ratings explode with Surgeon General nod?
Corporate Media's Sanjay Gupta, MD for Top Doc
The appointment of television celebrity, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, MD, as Surgeon General of the United States looks like the boldest step yet in the creation of a "virtual" cabinet by President-elect Barack Obama.
It's looking like cabinet members are being selected on the basis of "marketability and comfort" rather than qualifications and ideology, with two or three exceptions.
Gupta looks like a trial balloon for the full implementation of virtual politics. Unlike the first wave of appointments which portrayed "comforting stability," Gupta provides both the comfort factor and a near total absence of qualifications.
Previous Obama cabinet picks emphasized the absence of clear ideology while paying lip service to qualifications. For example, Timothy Geithner, the Secretary of Treasury pick, and Larry Summers, named to head the National Economic Council, both seem to have impressive resumes in banking and finance. Obama insiders made what appears to be a safe bet that the public wouldn't notice that both were up to their necks in the recent economic crash and tens of billions in Wall Street welfare.
Summers helped repeal key provisions of the federal Glass-Steagall Act in 1999. These provisions have been in place since the Great Depression. They kept banks from trading in high risk securities. With the reins loosened, banks recklessly invested billions in high risk schemes that led to the recent crash. At the signing ceremony in 1999, Summers said to the New York Times: "With this bill the American financial system takes a major step forward toward the 21st Century -- one that will benefit American consumers, business and the national economy." Some step. Some century.
As head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, Geithner gave an interview to Jenny Anderson of the New York Times in Feb. 2007. When asked about the high risk credit derivatives market, a risk he claimed that he'd addressed, Geithner said: "The fact that the banks are stronger and risk is spread more broadly should make the system more stable. We can't know that with certainty though. We'll have a test of that when things next threaten to fall apart." Will anybody mention that we've had Mr. Geithner's anticipated "test" and things did "fall apart" because the banks were weaker not "stronger."
Team Obama's attitude seems to be, 'Who cares! Those were one day stories. After all, these guys look good on paper and we can handle the storyline from here.'
The duties of the U.S. Surgeon General include: acting as the chief advocate for programs that promote public health; articulating "scientifically based health policy;" promoting national health initiatives; and administering the doctors and personnel of the Public Health Service. While party affiliation plays a role, the criteria for the job are a distinguished career in medicine and a strong interest in assuring the public well being. The office is typically occupied by a physician with a strong background in public health.
Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, MD, appointed by Pres. Reagan in 1981, was a controversial choice for the position due to his outspoken opposition to abortion. By presidential request, Koop began a study of HIV AIDS at the start of 1986, wrote a report, and arranged for delivery to 107 million homes by the end of the year. It was an accurate, honest, assessment of the risks of AIDS without any judgment as to the causes. He knew the science and spoke out forcefully. He did this over the objections of Reagan loyalists who wanted to avoid the topic and regularly sought to have Koop fired.
Gupta is both absent any discernable political ideology and clearly lacks the traditional qualifications for the position of Surgeon General. This fits nicely into the virtual cabinet model. He looks good on television and corporate America finds him "easy to dance to."