Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sanjay Gupta? Count Me Underwhelmed

To say that Obama’s choice of Sanjay Gupta for the position of Surgeon-General underwhelms me would be understating the point. I find the choice totally uninspiring. It makes me wonder even more about the ethos the new president intends to create in his administration.

It’s not just the despicable way Gupta treated Michael Moore ( And, yes, I did recall that “mugging” (to use Paul Krugman’s term) as soon as I read the news that Obama had chosen Gupta as health czar. I have the long memory of my Irish ancestors. And, like many of my Arkansas ancestors, I remember well who has proven to be my friend and who my enemy.

No, it's not just the Michael Moore case, though that counts for me. For me, the sticking point is Gupta himself. He’s just so . . . insubstantial. Glitter and not gold. Image without substance. Someone who seems to have crafted himself for the camera and the American media, at the loss of a significant portion of his real identity.

I’m not opposed to having a celebrity in this position. It may be a stroke of brilliance to think in that direction, to assume that someone with a name and a face will convince people to take health issues seriously—to see health as sexy.

I like the choice of someone with ethnic roots for this position, of a person of color to hold this distinguished title. One of the things I held against Bill Clinton was his treatment of Joycelyn Elders when she ran afoul of the right due to her honesty. Up to then, I had admired Clinton for choosing a woman of color for this position.

But Gupta? Count me underwhelmed. He’s about as substantial as, well, as CNN.

Looks like I’m going to spend the next four years in a seat I don’t relish—that of loyal critic of an exciting new president whom I wholeheartedly supported during the election. With each choice Mr. Obama is now making, my fears grow stronger that he has a fatal infatuation with image that has no substance behind it (can anyone say Rick Warren?), and will be tone-deaf to the insights of those on the left who helped put him in office, but whom he knows he can blow off because we have little power except to raise our voices, when he betrays our ideals.

Ideals that he himself has professed to cherish, since they're central to the participatory democracy he claims to value.