Thursday, February 18, 2021

Don't put me in a (political) box

On any given day, several hundred people read one or more of my blog posts. I don't have a good sense of who they are or where they stand on the various health and health policy issues that I've been writing about for the past decade. Since I turned off the blog Comments function a few years ago because it was being deluged in spam advertisements for cut-price Viagra and such, the only way I receive feedback about what I've written is when a reader reaches out directly, through an e-mail or private social media message, to let me know what they thought. The exception is my wife, who isn't a regular reader but does me the favor of promoting my blog within her social and professional circles from time to time. That isn't to say that we see eye to eye on all or even most of these topics. In fact, recently she shared, after not reading the blog for quite a while, that she was surprised by how "political" my posts had become. It wasn't only the recent Donald Trump post, which I'll freely admit is out of character for Common Sense Family Doctor and not likely to recur in the post-Trump Presidency era, but also posts about COVID-19 where I've seemed to come down on one partisan side or the other regarding elements of the public health response.

I don't feel that I've become more "political," but rather that public health and scientific evidence have been increasingly politicized. For example, wearing a mask indoors to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 wasn't a Republican or Democratic issue until the President declined to wear one and starting mocking rival politicians who did. Closing and re-opening public schools with safety protocols wasn't a liberal or conservative issue until the President, months prior to the results of definitive studies that confirmed that schools can re-open safely, insisted that they all re-open immediately and threatened to withhold federal funding if they didn't. And it became more politicized when teachers' unions, bastions of Democratic support, disregarded the science and insisted on conditions such as having children vaccinated prior to teachers returning, which effectively would keep school online for the remainder of this academic year and likely most of the next one.

I resist being categorized as partisan based on my position on any single issue. I am not currently registered with any political party, and though I voted for Joe Biden for President in 2020, eight years ago I voted for Mitt Romney and would probably vote for Romney again if he chose to run in 2024, based not only on his principled opposition to Trump's unchecked lawbreaking but his role as one of the original architects of Obamacare when he was the governor of Massachusetts. I am as vocal about my support of mask mandates as I am about opening schools. I criticized President Obama's health policy team for suppressing the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force's politically inconvenient statement on prostate cancer screening, and I criticized President Trump's first Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, for trying to do the same thing when he was a member of Congress. I praised Obama's health officials for aiming to de-stigmatize substance use disorders and later bemoaned the Biden administration's recent decision to block implementation of a proposal to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder by no longer requiring clinicians to hold a special waiver to prescribe buprenorphine.

In short, I've been on both sides of the partisan divide. My health policy views hew not to any political identity or ideology, but have always been guided by my interpretation of what the evidence says or doesn't say. So when you read something I write, here or anywhere else, please don't automatically put me into a political box and assume that because I'm for this, I must be for or against that. I'm a family doctor, and my goal is to take a commonsense, less-is-more approach to health care.