It came and went quickly, news of one appointee in the cavalcade of nominations President-elect Joe Biden has made. In early December, Biden said he’d asked Dr. Anthony Fauci — or should I say the Dr. Anthony Fauci — to become the chief medical advisor in the Biden administration.
I know I’m too late; Fauci said he accepted the offer “on the spot.” Never wise when answering politicians. Nevertheless my advice would be to say thanks, but no thanks. Fauci should continue to run the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases if he wants to, and continue to be available to presidents as he has been. Certainly, as a long-standing civil servant, he should be available to aid the infusion of knowledge for the incoming team — but not take a White House job. Personally, if I was Fauci — still trim and sharp at 80 years old — I’d retire, take a few nice-paying board positions, and do whatever I like to do with free time. Life can change fast once you hit 80. But that’s just me.
Fauci, who has in the pandemic become something of a real-life Marcus Welby, M.D. to the nation, has had a remarkable career. People sometimes forget his body of work connected to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and ’90s. National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins calls Fauci one of the medical establishment’s heroes. He’s appeared on my Federal Drive show in the past. I haven’t tried to get him on in the pandemic. He’s appeared everywhere, and I figured, what could I ask him he hasn’t been asked a million times?
In the course of advising the Trump administration on how to deal with the COVID virus, Fauci has come close to the fate of many others. Trump is like a high speed propeller running in reverse at the end of a wind tunnel. Get sucked in too far, and you end up shredded and shooting out the back in little pieces. Fauci has avoided that fate thanks to a combination of knowledge, reputation and a surprising degree of media deftness. He emerges in the transition unsullied and with his integrity intact.
That’s why I’m hoping he’ll stop right here with any further political, or political-looking, activity. CNN reported Fauci had been vetted by Biden’s coronavirus advisory board, which has some highly political types like Jeffrey Zients and Dr. David Kessler. He praised the choice of Ron Klain as White House chief of staff. Somehow, I don’t know, it seems unnecessary for Fauci at this point in his life, maybe a bit beneath him.
I don’t doubt these people’s interest in the public health of the nation, but in all decisions there’s always an element of politics, of how it will look, how the editorial pages and other partisans will judge it.
The Trump team certainly did not treat Fauci with the proper amount of respect, at one point tantalizing crowds with the idea of firing him. So the embrace of those who defeated that administration might be tempting, a satisfying I-told-you-so love pat. Yet there’s also the possibility that the patters are using Fauci for their own political purposes, making him an object like a discarded antique rescued from the Trump curb by the refined, discerning Biden crew.
True, Biden is stylistically very different from Trump, but no less politically calculating.
You could also say Fauci is demonstrating his non-partisanship by serving in similar positions in administrations at each extreme. Yet he’s got nothing to prove at this point, and the longer he’s exposed in these highly fraught affairs that mix politics and public health, the greater the potential for the kind of misstep that could taint a magnificent legacy. Once you get the attention of the jackals of late night TV, anything is possible.