Monday, June 11, 2007

Some Questions for Dr. Holsinger

It looks like I'm beginning to share Frank Lockwood's undying obsession with the Bush administration's nominee for Surgeon General, having posted twice on the subject in the last two days. This, then, is the last post on the subject, I promise.

In my last two posts I expressed some concern for Dr. Holsinger's views on homosexuality, and also for the way that he has thus far been treated. I also expressed my own conflict over his nomination. What I didn't do was arrive at any conclusions or give any suggestions. In this last post I'll do my best to do that.

Having now rather thoroughly (but by no means exhaustively) explored what the issues are with Dr. Holsinger's nomination to be U.S. Surgeon General, what do I think? What should happen next? Of course, no one with any power whatsoever will ever ask me questions like that, but I'll answer them here anyway.

I think that, as always happens unless a nomination is withdrawn, Dr. Holsinger should appear before the Senate for confirmation hearings. And, I think the Senate should do its job. That is, the Senate - and especially the Democrat leadership in the Senate - should address concerns and ask questions, without deciding in advance whether Dr. Holsinger should be confirmed. That does not mean that I think Dr. Holsinger should be confirmed. I have serious doubts about that. But I think that he should go through the confirmation process as he would through a trial (a trial by ordeal, perhaps?), without being prejudged.

I think he should be asked tough questions (questions like the ones I'll offer in a moment), and that he'd damn well better have some good answers. And, I think that in the (unlikely?) event that he answers those questions thoroughly and satisfactorily, I think that he should be confirmed.

What questions would I ask him? Questions like these:

Dr. Holsinger, in 1991 you wrote a paper titled the Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality. Do you stand by what you wrote in that paper concerning homosexuality, or have your views changed? If your views have changed, then how have they changed and why have they changed? (And, if not, thank you and goodbye!)

Dr. Holsinger, you helped found a church that "ministers" to those who no longer wish to be gay. What is your medical opinion of attempts to change someone's sexual orientation? Have you ever been directly involved in any attempt to alter someone's sexual orientation? If so, what exactly was your involvement, and are you still involved in such attempts? If you have been involved in such attempts in the past and are no longer involved, why are you no longer involved in such attempts? What changed?

Dr. Holsinger, do you think that homosexuality is a disease? Can it be treated? What is the basis for your opinion?

From what little I know personally of James Holsinger - and especially from what I know of him by his reputation in the United Methodist church and in the state of Kentucky - I highly doubt that he would lie to Congress. Like most who seek to navigate the treacherous waters of the confirmation process, he may evade some questions (I certainly would). It is that evasion, more than outright dishonesty, that I fear. If he answers a question, and answers it completely, then I'd trust his answer. And, if he can honestly answer questions like the ones above in a way that removes justified concern about his position on homosexuality, then I see no reason why he shouldn't be confirmed.

But I strongly doubt that he could answer those questions the way that I think he ought to. And if not, what then? Then he should not be confirmed. If he can't honestly say that homosexuality is not a disease, and if he cannot honestly distance himself from attempts to alter persons' sexual orientation, then he has no business being Surgeon General. But he is at least entitled to - assuming his nomination is not withdrawn - a fair hearing in the confirmation process, before he is tossed aside.


Anonymous said...

"But he is at least entitled to - assuming his nomination is not withdrawn - a fair hearing in the confirmation process, before he is tossed aside."

Isn't the pressure being applied by opponents of Holsinger's nomination precisely an attempt to encourage Bush to withdraw the nomination? If so, then I'm not sure you're saying much that anyone really disagrees with. I suspect that Holsinger's opponents would heartily agree that, IF Holsinger's nomination isn't withdrawn, then the Senate should do its job and ask Holsinger tough questions. They simply think that the Bush administration should be pressured to withdraw his nomination before such hearings begin.

If your point is that there are significant reasons to think that Bush shouldn't withdraw the nomination, and that Congress should hold confirmation hearings ON HIM, rather than on someone else, I can't quite find your reasons here. On the one hand, you seem to suggest that it would have been better had he not been nominated, but since he is nominated, better to have hearings. But if it's better that he wasn't nominated, why not try to get him un-nominated?

Sandalstraps said...


That line was not meant to indicate that I think the nomination should be withdrawn. Just that I think that it is a very real possibility that it will be withdrawn.

I do wish that Dr. Holsinger hadn't been nominated, though not necessarily because I think he couldn't do the job well. Rather, I hate to see him dragged through the mud like this, even though he made some of the mud himself with his paper from 1991.

I would like to see him go through the confirmation process, answer troubling questions openly and honestly, and honestly be able to give some compelling account of how his views have changed, and then become Surgeon General. I just don't think that will happen, for three reasons:

1. I suspect that either he will remove himself from consideration, or his nomination will be withdrawn for him. This is looking too much like the Harriett Miers fiasco to continue much longer.

2. If he does go through the confirmation process we will not be confirmed no matter what he says. There's too much heat. And, even if he has had a conversion experience in the last few years, and gives some compelling account of that conversion experience, the level of cynicism is so high I suspect no one will believe him.

3. I think that it is highly improbable that his views have changed. And, if his views haven't changed, then he should be Surgeon General, and he won't be Surgeon General.

So, that said, why waste all of this energy on these blog posts? I suspect you already know the answer to that. I hate the simple pro-con, for-against political discourse we (as a nation) are having right now. I may not like or agree with Dr. Holsinger, but I respect him, and want him to havve a fair hearing, both in the Senate and in the media.

At the end of that fair hearing he may be both rejected (by the Senate) and maligned (in the media), but I htink that collectively we're judging too quickly, and not considering any information that may complicate the picture that we have.

If I were pinned down and forced to say whether or not, based on what I know now, I think James Holsinger should be the next Surgeon General of the United States, I'd have to say that I don't. But there are conditions that he could meet, and I think those are reasonable conditions that he should have every chance to meet.

Anonymous said...

"I hate the simple pro-con, for-against political discourse we (as a nation) are having right now."

Perhaps I'm just obtuse, but I just don't quite see how the debate over Holsinger is "simple" or "pro-con, for-against," or if it is, exactly what is wrong with that. Ultimately, the debate is over whether he should be Surgeon General or not, and it seems that there really are just the two options: You support his nomination, or you don't. (That, or you just don't have an opinion at all.)

If your point is that Holsinger has been dismissed by some without a full weighing of his character and current beliefs, then that's rushing to judgment, not oversimplification. But, as you yourself suggest elsewhere, the guy wasn't nominated because of the totality of his character and current beliefs. He was nominated because what was already widely available about his past character and beliefs pleases the Republican base. The resistance to Holsinger has nothing to do with him, really; it's all about the Bush administration's sending up symbolic nominations.

Where we seem to differ is on what relevance this fact should have to what happens next. You see in Holsinger a potentially decent Surgeon General who just happens to be caught up in BushCo's political game, and so the best response to the political game is to have a Senate hearing to see through the smoke and mirrors and force BushCo's nominee and strategy out into the daylight. You seem to be saying that if this doesn't happen in the Senate, then it won't happen, or at least it won't happen in as meaningful and responsible a way.

I would like to agree with that assessment, but I can't; the confirmation process in Congress became, long before BushCo, a platform for grandstanding and political theater. Faced with the choice of whether the process of giving Holsinger a hearing should happen in the Senate or in the blogosphere and the media, I'm beginning to think that the blogosphere and the media might do just as well as the Senate, possibly better. At least, I still fail to see why opponents of Holsinger should expect the Senate to provide meaningful hearings, and even if the Senate does magically decide to provide meaningful hearings, why they shouldn't exercise their right as citizens to influence the process in the Senate.

Anonymous said...

As if he was reading our minds, E.J. Dionne's column from today's WaPo addresses the broader issue here without once mentioning the specific case of Holsinger. Here's the link:

Money quote: "Is Washington a mess? In many ways it is. The simplest explanation has to do with some bad choices made by President Bush. He started a misguided war that is now sapping his influence; he has treated Democrats as if they were infected with tuberculosis and Republicans in Congress as if they were his valets. No wonder he's having trouble pushing through a bill [the immigration bill-- Brian] whose main opponents are his own ideological allies.

Maybe you would place blame elsewhere. But please identify some real people or real political forces and not just some faceless entity that you call the system. [David Broder, are you listening? --Brian] Please be specific, bearing in mind that when hypochondriacs misdiagnose vague ailments they don't have, they often miss the real ones."

Anonymous said...

You are obsessed with homosexuality. You have written about it a lot. Is this revealing? Are you gay? Tell the truth.

Tom said...


Are you an asshole? Tell the truth.

Seriously, who pops up on a blog and asks questions like that without even leaving a name? Who the fuck are you and why do you feel entitled to know anything? Wanting equality for all of God's people and not just middle class white bigots doesn't make someone gay. Being gay makes someone gay. That's like asking white people who marched in the civil rights movement if they're black. What a stupid question.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I am an asshole for saying such a thing. Sandalstraps, I ask for your forgiveness. Please? Thanks.