Science Triumphant: The rise and fall and rise of Vivek Murthy | Dick Polman

November 16, 2020 6:30 am

JONES BEACH, NEW YORK, – MARCH 17: A coronavirus drive-thru testing site is up and running at the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center on March 17, 2020 at Jones Beach State Park, New York. It is the first drive thru coronavirus testing site on Long Island. The World Health Organization declared coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic on March 11th. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

If anyone out there still thinks voting is a waste of time, I can quash that canard with two words: Vivek Murthy.

Dick Polman Cagle Syndicate photo

Rather than focusing on the demagogic loser’s pathetic attempts to bandage his eggshell ego with bogus lawsuits, let’s look on the bright side of life.

Thanks to President-elect Joe Biden and the eleventh-hour wisdom of the voting majority, the pandemic will be fought not by incompetent quacks, but by seasoned public health professionals who actually know what they’re doing – starting with Murthy, who will co-chair Biden’s coronavirus task force.

The name may not ring a bell. In 2014, Murthy was nominated by President Barack Obama for the post of U.S. Surgeon General, putting him in charge of the nation’s 6,700 federal public health workers.

It was easy to see why Obama wanted him. Murthy, an Indian-American, was a Yale-trained internist at the top-notch Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and a Harvard Med School teacher.

He was endorsed by (among others) the American Public Health Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and American Hospital Association. He’d co-founded a nonprofit group that had worked since 1995 to fight HIV/AIDS, and he launched a software technology company that aimed to improve the efficiency of clinical drug trials.

The only hitch: He had to be confirmed by a Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, which proceeded to block him. Care to guess why? Because the NRA didn’t like him.

Pa. shatters another daily record for COVID-19 cases, with 5,531 cases, officials say

Murthy, in his stints as an ER doctor, had treated lots of gunshot victims, and believed that gun violence was a public health issue. (With 30,000 annual gun deaths and 80,000 annual gun woundings, I can’t imagine where he got that idea.) Senate Republicans – fearful as always of the NRA, along with some red-state Senate Democrats – ganged up on Murthy and put his nomination in limbo for nine months.

Long story short – I’ll skip the parliamentary maneuvers – Murthy was finally confirmed during the lame-duck session after the 2014 midterms,. While serving as surgeon general, he fought the spread of Ebola and the Zika virus, among other public health challenges. He was safe in the job – until April 17, 2017.

That’s when President Donald Trump fired him.

No reasons given, but we all know that his Obama taint was sufficient cause. So Murthy had to wander in the wilderness, so to speak, taking his expertise into exile. But this year, as soon as Americans started dying from COVID-19, he started to surface in public forums. Way back in March, when Trump was babbling that “we’ve done a great job” and that COVID “will go away,” Murthy was a tad more realistic.

He told NPR, “This is an all-in moment for America and for the world. And every now and then, these moments come about in the world’s history, where we have to come together to overcome a challenge that’s bigger than any one of us can take on alone. And this is one of those moments. This is a serious pandemic.”

Wolf extends Pa.’s opioid disaster declaration as COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket | Friday Morning Coffee

Another long story short: Murthy joined the Biden campaign as an in-house medical advisor. Now he’s back on top – propelled, at last check, by a record 76 million voters – and he’ll be working with Biden task force member Rick Bright, a vaccine development expert who blew the whistle on Trump and got fired from his prominent federal job. He’s back on top, too.

That’s why we vote.

So put your hands together for science and competence. As Vivek Murthy said in August, “We have the talent, resources and technology. What we are missing is leadership.”

Now we’ll get it. Thanks, democracy.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Dick Polman
Dick Polman

Opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at His work appears on Mondays on the Capital-Star's Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].