He Cares So You Don’t Have To

I suspect that President Obama’s selection of Dr. Thomas R. Frieden for director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be sold as a limited need to scale up to the needs of the nation from his current position as New York City health commissioner. It’s more likely because Dr. Frieden is inclined to further the state’s intrusion into personal choices:

Dr. Alfred Sommer, emeritus dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who was on the team that recommended Dr. Frieden as New York’s health chief in 2002, recalled interviewing him shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. Dr. Frieden had flown to New York from India, where he was living and working on tuberculosis control.

Before he left India, he was asked about his top priority, Dr. Sommer said. “Oh, well, that’s easy, Al,” Dr. Sommer recalled him replying. “Tobacco. Tobacco is killing more people, and that’s my top priority.”

“Tom, I don’t disagree that tobacco is a real scourge, but have you heard of 9/11?” Dr. Sommer said he countered.

“Of course I know about that, but bioterrorists are not going to kill more New Yorkers than tobacco is,” Dr. Frieden said.

Dr. Frieden’s efforts to ban smoking and trans fats in restaurants, to require calorie counts on menus and to restrict sodium don’t offer much hope that he’ll fill the role responsibly, with respect for the voluntary choices of individuals.

Previous entries on Dr. Frieden here and here.