Can we please not do this, Pennsylvania?
By “this,” I mean send Mehmet Oz to the Senate.
Dr. Oz, as he is known to American television audiences, is planning to throw his hat into the next Senate election as a Republican in Pennsylvania. While nothing is ever certain in politics, his substantial fame is likely to make him a front-runner right from the start.
I greet this prospect with the same enthusiasm I’d have for contracting dysentery.
It’s been obvious for years that Oz is more than happy to leverage his reputation as a cardiothoracic surgeon and medical scientist in service to his own celebrity and advancement, and isn’t one to let quaint little things like facts stand in his way. Stroll down a checkout aisle in your local grocery store, and chances are strong you’ll see his smiling face on the cover of a magazine touting some wildly unhealthy weight-loss claim. He’s been promoting pseudoscience on his show for years, from obesity “remedies” like green coffee and garcinia cambogia to hawking “homeopathy starter kits,” so this is nothing new.
What’s been even more troubling during the pandemic is his willingness to speak in favor of treatments like hydroxychloroquine that have no merit for the care of COVID patients, going as far as touting the drug on Fox & Friends. As I’ve previously written, he even appeared on Fox and “suggested that the mere 2-3 percent increase in COVID-19 mortality that would come from reopening schools nationwide might be a worthwhile trade-off.” Medical misinformation is literally killing people, and it is unconscionable that anyone who should know better would contribute to it. And Oz most certainly should and does know better.
It is telling that Oz would see a space for himself in the Republican primary field. The GOP is riddled with prominent figures who undermine the seriousness of the pandemic, refute the importance of getting vaccinated, and denigrate the public health officials tasked with keeping the American people as safe and healthy as possible. Voters for those people are the ones Oz sees himself capable of wooing. That is the base he will need to capture to make his candidacy a success.
That he apparently likes his chances is enormously troubling.
The United States Senate already has one medical doctor going out of his way to shred the concepts of ethics and scientific evidence as a way of ginning up support for himself in the person of Rand Paul. He is an embarrassment to physicians everywhere, and as a doctor myself I consider him an abject disgrace. The idea of him and Oz trying to outdo each other in the amount of horseshit they’re willing to fling is the stuff of nightmares for me.
Of course, it is possible that Oz has seen within the party of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Ron DeSantis space for a responsible voice for medical science. To join the ranks of the most hardcore sources of pandemic misinformation would be to torch his reputation within the medical profession to a much greater degree than he has been willing to erode it thus far. I would love to be misguided in my concern about his plans to run, and heaven knows my opinion of him has nowhere to go but up.
However, at this point Oz has waived all claims to benefit of the doubt. Habitually allowing his image to sell magazines making dangerous and outlandish health claims does not inspire confidence when imagining the lengths he’s willing to go to to win at the polls, and a willingness to spout dangerous and outlandish claims about the pandemic is par for the course in Republican politics these days. Believing he’s going to start standing on principle now means overlooking all the times he waltzed right on by it over the past several years. As America makes its way through another holiday season mired in the pandemic, an Oz Senate candidacy is one more big lump in a stocking already overflowing with coal.