Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Yes, a Surgeon General would come in handy right about now

For me, one of the most interesting stories in politics these days is the way that information has come to flow in the the conservative movement. And sometimes the most interesting part of that story is the way information fails to flow.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) says Ron Klain is "off to a bad start" in his new role as the president's Ebola response coordinator, and that the U.S. Surgeon General should be the one leading the effort. But what Chaffetz doesn't seem to realize is that there hasn't been a surgeon general for more than a year.

“Why not have the surgeon general head this up?" Chaffetz asked in a Wednesday appearance on Fox News. "I think that’s a very legitimate question. At least you have somebody who has a medical background whose been confirmed by the United States Senate.”

“It begs the question, what does the surgeon general do?" he added. "Why aren’t we empowering that person?”
After this broke, Chaffetz tried to moonwalk his way back from the statement but there is simply no way to frame this so that the man comes off as both well-informed and honest. His problem is that he is trying to follow an official party line that makes consistency almost impossible (you can't block relevant nominations and gut relevant funding while plausibly complaining about the government doing too little to address an epidemic).

I suspect the root of the problem is that the leadership of the conservative movement fell in love with the appealing but doubly flawed idea that you can create optimal messaging by controlling the process. Fox News has always been a hothouse for ideas and arguments crafted to appeal to the base. Conflicting data and effective counter-arguments were largely kept out of the environment.

This approach can work for a while but at some point you lose control. The system is too complex to fine-tune. Eventually you find yourself saddled with a bunch of ideas that the base is committed to even though they can't hope to survive in the outside world.

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