Considering that Barack Obama has taken great pains to demonstrate his desire to return science to a position of respect and value in our government, I was pretty shocked to see that he was considering nominating Sanjay Gupta as Surgeon General.
Even putting aside criticism that Gupta has been a shill for the pharmaceutical industry, and that he knowingly used false data to attack Michael Moore regarding Sicko, I found the choice to be very strange simply for the fact that it seems so gimmicky to nominate a guy primarily known as a TV doctor!
Sanjay Gupta may be a highly qualified physician, just like Letterman’s Paul Schafer may be a highly trained musician (and I don’t really know about either), but the overall impression when you see both of them is that they are likable media creations who thrive more on attention than competence.
Selecting Gupta sends a message that appearance is more important than substance, because appearance is what he’s best known for. Selecting Gupta doesn’t fit with the type of competence-driven administration Obama has been methodically putting together. In fact, if I don my tin foil fedora, selecting Gupta almost seems like the kind of appointment Karl Rove might recommend to George Bush to cover up some insidious plot to allow cronies to profit from a health care crisis! It just doesn't make sense that Obama would nominate him.
So why all the talk of nominating Sanjay Gupta? Here are three potential theories (not mutually exclusive) that all seem more plausible to me than the thought that Obama really wants Sanjay Gupta to be his Surgeon General:
1. By putting out word that Gupta is under consideration, Obama can count on a media frenzy over the idea that “one of their own” will join the administration, which helps "turn the page" from the prior media frenzies over Rick Warren and over possible links between Obama and Rod Blagojovich.
2. By nominating Gupta and giving congressional dems someone relatively meaningless to reject, Obama can get full support on his more critical appointees without the appearance of a democratic version of the Bush rubber stamp Republicans.
3. Gupta was likely one of many potential nominees to be contacted, but because he is such an eager self-promoter, he quickly realized the PR value of being seen as Obama’s choice so he quickly used his insider status to spread the “news,” knowing that even if he doesn’t get it, he has a huge microphone with which to convince America that he was the one who rejected Obama.
All in all, I will be very, very surprised if Sanjay Gupta ends up being nominated.