In the midst of the questions swirling around Congressman
Gary Condit and the disappearance of Chandra Levy, The Wall Street Journal published a glowing article on Senator
William Frist, Republican of Tennessee, writing that he was shining proof that
Congress was not composed entirely of “lowlifes.” It seems that Journal columnist Al Hunt had dinner at
Mr. Frist’s home, where he was treated to tales of the Senator’s
extracurricular work as a medical doctor “in war-ravaged southern Sudan, in a
makeshift operating room with no electricity or running water.” Mr. Hunt raced
home and typed up his column, titled “Senator, Surgeon and Samaritan,” in which
he described Mr. Frist as a kind of swashbuckling Harrison Ford with a medical
degree and declared him one of the
“best people in politics.” Given that Mr. Frist, a staunch ally of
George W. Bush, is mentioned as a Republican Presidential contender in 2008,
Mr. Hunt’s column was money in the bank.
But the facts of the Senator’s moonlighting medical travels
are somewhat less exotic than Mr. Hunt’s enthralled account, and somewhat
troubling. It’s true that, before being
elected to the Senate in 1994, Mr. Frist was a reputable surgeon with a Harvard Medical School degree who
specialized in heart and lung transplants and founded a transplant
center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He stopped practicing heart
surgery when he was elected because, he said, “You have to keep your hands
nimble.” But he hasn’t stopped scrubbing up altogether: As Mr. Hunt wrote, the Senator has traveled to
Africa annually for the past three years, staying a week and performing a few
surgeries, such as a hip replacement, a goiter removal and a hernia
operation. About the hernia operation, the Senator told Mr. Hunt, “It’s a
simple operation, but without it, they die”-a curious assessment, given that untreated hernias are not regarded as
fatal by those in the medical profession.
One must assume that Mr. Frist has the best of intentions,
but one must also ask if a doctor who performs only a handful of operations a
year, in between his duties as a U.S.
Senator, is able to keep his medical skills sharp enough to benefit
those he’s treating. It’s hard to imagine that the chief of any hospital would
allow a surgeon with such infrequent operating-room time to just pop in
whenever he pleases and operate on patients. Would Mr. Hunt, or his editors at The Wall Street Journal , go to Mr. Frist
if they needed an operation? Of course not-they would be up at Presbyterian
Hospital, attended by the best surgeons available. And who can really say what
the outcome is of Mr. Frist’s activities in the Sudan? He’s on a plane back to Washington within a
week, having done just enough surgery to win the adulation of The Journal , but leaving the follow-up
procedures to the doctors who work there full-time.
Only a cynic would suggest that Mr. Frist’s trips to Africa
are nothing but clever public relations. In his youth, he clearly had the
motivation to undertake a full-time medical career, and chances are that he
still wants to put those skills to good use. And there is no question that he
is of a different caliber than the evasive
Gary Condit. But there is something unseemly about the mythology being
stoked by Mr. Hunt and others. If Mr. Frist wants to go back to being a doctor,
he should resign his seat and start practicing medicine. If he wants to be a
Senator, he should ask himself if picking up a scalpel a few times a year
qualifies him to hold the well-being of others in his hands.
Will Bush Welch on Hudson?
It’s beginning to look likely that the Bush administration
and its oft-humiliated head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christie
Whitman, are going to let Jack Welch and
General Electric off the hook. Reports indicate that Ms. Whitman, acting
on behalf of the administration, will support a watered-down plan to clean up
the PCB’s that G.E. dumped in the upper Hudson River.
elected officials have demanded that the contaminated riverbed be dredged at
G.E.’s expense. The Clinton administration supported a plan that would cost the
company about $480 million. G.E. has run a massive publicity campaign against
the plan, but it will be very happy if Ms. Whitman decides on a compromise that
would call for dredging only a small part of the riverbed, at a cost of $100
million. Governor George Pataki, who likes to be thought of as a green
Republican, says he favors dredging, but he hasn’t taken a strong position on
the dueling dredging plans. Ms. Whitman’s position isn’t quite clear, although
it’s worth noting that she has been putting off meeting with environmentalists.
That this matter is even under discussion is a disgrace;
that G.E. and the Bush administration seem prepared to undertake a token
cleanup is a scandal. Mr. Welch’s legacy at G.E. will be tainted if this
short-sighted plan is put into effect. As for Ms. Whitman, she will deserve the
scorn of those who accuse her of being a gutless tool of the Bush administration.
If she is truly a steward of the environment, Ms. Whitman
will recommend full dredging; and if her boss, the President, resists, she will
Teach for America
New York City’s students can only be as good as their
teachers, and the failure of the education
bureaucracy to uphold its end of the bargain is legendary. Fortunately,
there are brilliant people outside that bureaucracy who understand that, just
as students can only be as good as their teachers, a city like New York can
only be as good as the promise it offers its young people. That promise has
been honored by Teach for America, a
national nonprofit founded by Princeton University alumna Wendy Kopp, whose thesis as an undergraduate was
the blueprint for this program. In the past 10 years, 6,000 college
grads who might otherwise have shunned teaching have been trained by Teach for
America. Nearly 600 recruits have taught in Harlem, Washington Heights and the
South Bronx. Ninety-one percent of
principals rate Teach for America teachers as good or excellent.
The success of Teach for America will not only result in
more motivated students, but may also have a profound effect on public
education, as Teach for America alumni become involved in education policy. Two
respected charter schools, the Knowledge Is
Power Program Academy and the Bronx Preparatory Academy, both in the
South Bronx, are run by Teach for America alumni.
New Yorkers interested in
helping may call 212-279-2080 or visit http://www.teach
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