It appears that Barack Obama will name CNN health reporter Sanjay Gupta as the next US Surgeon General. Although I strongly disagree with Dr. Gupta on many issues, such as his support for national health care, he is probably as good a choice as any. But the bigger question is why do we need a surgeon general in the first place? After all, can anyone name our current (acting) surgeon general?
In reality, the surgeon general is little more than the “national nanny,” hectoring us to stop smoking, lose weight, exercise more, and never ever go out without a condom. I’ve been flipping through my copy of the Constitution, and I can’t find the authorization for the federal government to take taxpayers’ money to establish an office to tell us how we should live our lives. There are plenty of private groups that are fully capable of instructing us on how to be healthy, wealthy and wise without the government’s getting involved. The American Lung Association can tell us not to smoke. Alcoholics Anonymous can preach sobriety. The American Medical Association can lecture couch potatoes on the benefits of losing weight and exercising more. Planned Parenthood and the Family Research Council can fight it out over when and how we should have sex.
The surgeon general does oversee the Public Health Service. But we have a Department of Health and Human Services that is supposed to be running the government’s health care programs. Why not let HHS take over any useful functions of the Public Health Service and dump the rest, including the surgeon general?
President-Elect Obama says he wants to be a different type of president. Fair enough. Why not start by letting people live the way they want, without a surgeon general looking over our shoulder and nagging us.