Let Vivek Murthy become the ‘nation’s doctor'

 

The U.S. Senate should confirm Dr. Vivek Murthy to the post of surgeon general.

Murthy is a former emergency room doctor and strong advocate of sound, commonsense health policies. He founded Doctors for America, a national organization committed to expanding access to affordable health care.

He has the support of an array of well-respected medical and public health organizations, ranging from the American Public Health Association to the American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

There is no reason that Murthy shouldn’t be swiftly confirmed to become “the nation’s doctor.”

Yet, unfortunately, Murthy is facing strong opposition from the National Rifle Association for his support of limited gun safety measures — a position in line with the views of many millions of Americans.

In October 2012, he tweeted: “Tired of politicians playing politics w/ guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of NRA. Guns are a health care issue.”

Guns are, indeed, a health care issue, but Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., took issue with this during Murthy’s confirmation hearings.

Murthy testified that he did not plan on using the surgeon general position as “a bully pulpit for gun control,” and in fact his position would have little sway over federal gun policy. Instead, he said his priority would be to focus on obesity prevention.

Nonetheless, he is still facing stiff opposition in the Senate, including from a few Democrats.

In early March, a handful of Democrats joined with Republicans to torpedo another worthy nominee, Debo Adegbile, whom Obama had put forward to head up the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

Adegbile’s credentials, like Murthy’s, were impeccable. For many years, he worked as a litigator for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and he serves as senior counsel on the staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But because he filed legal briefs on behalf of the former death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Senate voted him down.

The Senate is sending a disappointing message to young people who aspire to dedicate their careers to public service, as Murthy and Adegbile have, when they scour their records for even the slightest hint of controversy.

Special interest groups have a right to make arguments that suit their goals. But it is up to the Senate to identify these interests and make decisions related to confirmation based on the merit and potential of the nominees themselves.

President Obama rightly condemned the Senate for rejecting Adegbile, calling the vote “a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.”

Neither the president nor the country should have to stand for another such travesty. The Senate should do what is right and confirm Dr. Vivek Murthy without further delay.

Suman Raghunathan is the executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

This article was prepared for The Progressive Media Project and is available to MCT subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.

© 2014, Suman Raghunathan

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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