Why Not Paul Farmer at US-AID

Ideas and Issues Protests

PEF2005 New Orleans After endless delays and speculation the Administration announced that Dr. Rajiv Shah, currently an Department of Agriculture official and formerly an executive with the Gates Foundation, would become the head of the United States Agency for International Development (US-AID) last week.  From all reports he sounds like a competent administrator and a first rate player in this area, but I keep looking under the rock to try and understand what happened to long reported likelihood of an appointment of Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, Harvard hotshot, rock star do-gooder in Haiti, Rwanda, and elsewhere, and subject of a near fawning biography by Tracy Kidder?  I’m sure Farmer is not quite a saint, but certainly the Obama administration knew that his appointment at US-AID would have been a total game changer.  How – and why – did the Administration drop the ball after leaving Farmer’s name hanging out there for this job for more than 6 months?

Scouring the internet, the only comment I could find attributable to Farmer points to the overly intrusive vetting process.  Nicholas Kristof of the Times in a blog a month ago seem to say the White House was concerned about various public comments Farmer had made in the past.  Secretary of State Hilary Clinton lashed out at the delays in filling this position.  Former President Bill Clinton now a special envoy to Haiti seems to have pulled some strings and had Farmer named a UN Special Envoy for Haiti as well.  All of that seems orchestrated to make a hard pill easier for Farmer to swallow and the public to buy.

My bet is that Farmer is another casualty of the raging neo-McCarthyism in the land and the highly partisan wars over health care that turned into a firestorm with the Tea Party during the summer Congressional recess.  Some call Farmer a “saint.”  Nobody is, but Farmer’s dedication and commitment to health care reform in underdeveloped countries is unquestioned.  I’ve heard him speak.  I’ve read the books.  Farmer is no radical.  We’re not talking about some flame throwing comment where he sided with the senderos in Peru or was on the wrong side – or any side – with Aristede in Haiti or a poker buddy Amin in Uganda.  I’m betting it was simple:  he believes and has often stated, that health care is a right for everyone.

In these days and times that puts him right in the crosshairs of the Becks, Fox, the Republican partisans, and those are skirmishes that the Obama Administration does everything possible to avoid no matter how good or important an appointment in their Rahm Emmanuel cold calculations of the “greater good” involved in the health care reform fight.  The Senate would have had to confirm Farmer.  There was clearly a guarantee from the Republican side that there would be a battle, and despite the certainty that if a Farmer can’t be approved, no one can, I would be every dollar in my jeans today that Farmer is another example of the collateral damage to the way the Administration was caught flatfooted by the ferocity of the summer attacks around health care.