Regina Benjamin, Surgeon-General Designate

The post of Surgeon General of the United States, in theory, could do some good. The role is one of representing and administering the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. They can be despatched in emergencies, and hold the nominal rank of Vice-Admiral, as well as a role (overplayed in recent years) of being an advocate for health strategies. The job, which inherted roles dating back to 1798, can be traced back to 1871.

My own opinion of the role is that I'm not keen on health 'hectoring', but that people should have warning about good and bad things placed in front of them, based on available science or statistics, and allowed to make up their own mind. Of course a federal government should have some residual capacity to coordinate emergency relief too. That's a constitutional duty.

Today, President Obama has nominated Regina Benjamin to the post. She comes from a tough background, kept her nonprofit clinic in an equally tough area, and won the Papal cross in essence for not walking away with her MBA somewhere else. People like her a feature of American medical life; they don't pay off debts with lucrative electives, but often carry them on into their forties, even doing some work for free, rather than see people go untreated. If anything, her catholicism (yet another Obama catholic pick in medical or health roles) ought to mean she doesn't shove utilitarian solutions down people's throats.

Anyway, anyone who would 'max out' their own credit cards and take on extra mortgages to keep a vital clinic going after the Katrina disaster fulfils the doctor's vocation, it seems to me. It was unpleasant to read that she is being attacked for her size, which is above average. Yet, apparently, there is a military uniform in it, which suggests to me that it is in the range of normal.

Is this the best critics can do?

She's not unhealthily thin. Not to put too fine a point on it, many black women are 'curvier' than white women. One of my friends--a lovely woman of Jamaican extraction, whom I dated occasionally, is all the better for it. Like most men I know I like women who look like women, whatever their size, and part of that involves being comfortable with oneself as curvier women often are.

So where do critics of Mr Obama get off, attacking Dr Benjamin as 'obese'? I mean, really? Haley Barbour, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Gore, Dick Cheney anyone? What's happened to American politics that this is a legitimate way to go?


Hi Martin

Personally I think she's a great pick. Rewards for people who demostrate the type of selfless self-sacrifice that she has to help others is exactly the right way to go. She is a great example.

And so what if she possibly over indulges gastronomically, I'd rather have a real person in a role such as this than a health fascist!

I like your new look btw.
Martin Meenagh said…
Couldn't agree more, CC. Frankly, she seems confortable in herself, and anyway should be judged, well, just like you did. Many thanks for the compliment--I want the blog to get (slightly) less silly and to acknowledge just how serious the times are, but not in a crazy pompous way. It's good to change every so often too.

All the best, as usual.

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