While my overall disdain for celebritocracy probably suggests that I should be bummed out about the prospect of CNN personality Sanjay Gupta taking the post of Surgeon General, my first reaction is that it's something of an inspired choice. Even better, it's another indication that the Obama administration might swing for the fences on health care reform. Consider:
The offer followed a two-hour Chicago meeting in November with Obama, who said that Gupta could be the highest-profile surgeon general in history and would have an expanded role in providing health policy advice, the sources said. Gupta later spoke with Tom Daschle, Obama's White House health czar and nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, and other advisers to the president-elect.
The Michigan-born son of parents who were born in India, Gupta has always been drawn to health policy. He was a White House fellow in the late 1990s, writing speeches and crafting policy for Hillary Clinton. His appointment would give the administration a prominent official of South Asian descent and a skilled television spokesman.
Certainly Gupta (about whom I know very little, and of whom I have no strong opinion) would bring the highest profile to the office of anyone who's taken that job. C. Everett Koop, the surgeon general who's probably best known in popular culture to those of us of a certain age, was a pediatrician in Philadelphia before Reagan appointed him; in fact, he performed surgery on me (for a hernia) when I was seven, making him the only public figure of national stature who's ever touched my genitals.
But I digress.
As someone very comfortable in front of the camera, Gupta could be a powerful advocate for whatever reform of health coverage Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Tom Daschle eventually champion. Further, if the proposed policy shift includes a change in emphasis from responsive to preventive care, as I think it well might, you'd really rather have a charismatic doctor championing that message than, say, Byron Dorgan.
My sense the last couple days has been that we're starting to see the steep side of Obama's learning curve as he prepares to take office. But this move strikes me as pretty clever.