"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 2 November 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Doctor Who?



If you have little to no idea

who David Satcher is, then he's

doing a bang-up job and deserves

high praise for escaping your

attention. Mind you, Satcher is

not a member of the Tri-Lateral

Commission, the Electoral

College, Hill & Knowlton public

relations, or any of the other

semi-secret societies that

decide global weather patterns

or seasonal M & M's color



Since February, he has played

the historic and often hysteric

role of national scold, aka the

US Surgeon General, a position

so central to the dawn's early

light and the twilight's last

gleaming that it went unfilled

for three-and-a-half years with

nary a peep of voter discontent.

In a political economy where the

whole world is a Visa card with

zero percent interest, let's

give credit where credit is due:

Satcher may well preserve his

office by going largely

unnoticed by the press, the

public, and politicians.


Given the recent history of the

job - and it is a job, damn it,

one that even comes with a

uniform based on the Field

Marshal's and those of several

other powerful characters from

Stratego - the Jughead Jones in

all of us can only applaud Dr.

Satcher on his bold,

hide-in-plain-sight strategy.

His work-avoidance ploy allows

him to lurk just beyond the

attention of even the most

interested political junkie,

while still remaining visible

enough to be recognized every

payday without having to show

ID. (This is a tactic he no

doubt adapted from the medically

themed dramedy Diagnosis

Murder, starring Dick Van Dyke -

or is Dick Van Patten? -

currently in its in 43rd year on

CBS - or is it NBC? By all

accounts, studio executives

would cancel it if they only

could verify its actual




Indeed, if Satcher plays his

cards right - and his recent,

widely reported and immediately

forgotten pronouncements about

suicide (whatever they were)

suggest that he could bluff his

way to a $20 pot with a pair of

deuces - he'll probably keep his

current job even after John

Glenn returns to Earth and, with

the help of the Klingon attack

force he contacted during

Shuttle Mission STS-95,

subjugates the entire planet to

his evil will.


Satcher's performance is all the

more impressive given the

tumultuous tenure of his

predecessor, Joycelyn Elders,

who got the heave-ho in late

1994. Though her appointment as

the nation's chief health

officer necessitated the

invention of an entirely new

class of stretch fabrics for her

uniform, upon appointment she

was widely hailed as perfect for

the job. But she didn't uphold

the office's century-old

tradition of high-minded,

ceremonial invisibility.

Instead, Elders turned out to be

only slightly less of an

Arkansas-based, sexually

transmitted debacle for Bill

Clinton than his recent affair.


In a rambling non sequitur,

which itself bespoke intense

familiarity with any number of

controlled substances, Elders

said that perhaps, maybe,

conceivably the United States

might consider looking into drug

legalization. Such a statement,

no matter how couched in

qualifications and semantic

incoherence, enraged a

president, who as a point of

pride, boasted on the campaign

trail of setting up his

half-brother, Ramada lounge

performer Roger, in a drug

sting. (Roger, apparently still

experiencing coke-fueled

delusions, continues to thank

his older sibling regularly for

helping him get his act together

and pointing him down the road

of success.)


Far more troubling, Elders also

suggested that masturbation was

"something that perhaps should

be taught" in the nation's

schools. Such a policy would

have literally extended the long

arm of the state into hitherto

private regions and, if

international comparisons of

student achievement in math and

science provide any indication,

would have seriously threatened

America's long-standing

preeminence in self-

gratification. Though Clinton

had yet to declare the end of

the Big Government era, he

recognized federal overreach

when he saw it and made Elders,

technically a three-star admiral

in both the US and KISS navies,

walk the plank. (It is widely

believed that educators, angered

at the prospect of fondling

students on the time clock and

fearful of increased

certification requirements, also

played a role in the decision to

scuttle Elders.)



To be fair, Elders was hardly

the first Surgeon General to

bite the hand that appointed

her. Indeed, in doing so, she

was merely following the

four-lane superhighway of a

trail blazed by Ronald Reagan's

Surgeon General, C. Everett

Koop. That Koop was able to

embarrass a man who lionized SS

officers, played straight man to

a chimpanzee, and actually wore

a Tartan plaid suit in public on

at least one occasion is no

small feat. With his trademark

Scooby-Doo villain beard, Koop,

who got the job chiefly because

he had characterized abortion as

"the slide to Auschwitz" and

posed for

pictures in Republican-friendly

places like Sodom and Gomorrah,

mortified the Reagan

administration by eventually

admitting that AIDS - not to

mention homosexuality and IV

drug use - actually existed.


Upon leaving office, the

ever-ambitious Koop kicked it up

to the next level and quickly

achieved his goal of becoming a

truly national pain in the ass.

For millions of Americans, he

remains to this day the mentally

impaired grandparent who just

never shuts up while spinning

Larry King-esque

anti-narratives. For instance,

after leaving office, he penned

an unintentionally revelatory

autobiography, in which he

discussed the magical powers

inherent in what many would

mistake for simple clothing:

"Once confirmed, I was entitled

to wear a uniform ... I put it

on immediately.... There is

something about a uniform. I had

last worn one in my Boy Scout

days ... There were a couple of

times on airplanes when elderly

women mistook me for a steward,

handed me their luggage, and

confidently assumed that I would

put it in the overhead

compartment. I always complied

immediately." The moral of the

story? With great uniforms, it

appears, come great



Such literary outpourings have

been matched by a stream of

videos that languish undisturbed

on Blockbuster's

community-access shelves, the

medical counterpart to erotic

thrillers featuring Michael

Dudikoff and Shannon Tweed.

Untethered by an office but still

in search of a captive audience,

Koop now roams free, a mascot

without a home team, the public

health community's answer to the

San Diego Chicken.



It's better then, that the

current Surgeon General - good

ol' what's-his-name - has taken

the path less traveled in recent

years. David Satcher - or is it

Dick Van Patten? - is following

in the barely-visible footsteps

of Antonia Novello, who occupied

the position in the interregnum

between Koop and Elders. Like

her similarly named counterpart

in the world of TV comedy, Don

"Father Guido Sarducci" Novello,

she managed to make virtually no

impression on the public - not a

bad tactic at all when your best

schtick is dressing up in a

silly costume and addressing

indifferent audiences who, if

you're lucky, will forget they

ever heard of you.

courtesy of Mr. Mxyzptlk

[Purchase the Suck Book here]