This past week, the former head of the Pennsylvania Department of Health was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Assistant U.S. Secretary of Health. Dr. Rachel Levine’s nomination was not entirely unexpected since she had a fairly high profile during the early days of the pandemic. Joe Biden and his crew must have seen the press conferences, dutifully covered by CNN.
The embattled Pennsylvanian stood up against (take your pick) bigotry, GOP opposition, more bigotry, anti-shutdown protests, lots more bigotry, questions about why she took her mother out of a nursing home right before sending infected patients to reside with our own mothers and fathers in those nursing homes, and even more bigotry.
READ MORE — Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey says Rachel Levine nomination ‘unearned’
You can understand why an administration that is so big on “inclusivity” would have focused like a laser on this woman, and nominate her for a position of authority. It was a big “take that”, finger in the eye to all Pennsylvanians who had legitimate, unanswered questions about why their loved ones were exposed to significant infection risk, why their businesses were randomly closed but Planned Parenthood clinics were left open, why churches had to conduct services online but women could still get abortions and a host of other concerns that Democrats group under the “they’re just crazy Qanon folk” heading.
Now, here she is, presiding over not just the health of Pennsylvanians but the welfare of our brothers and sisters across the nation.
How in the world did she get confirmed?
Of course you understand that this is a rhetorical question, because I just answered it for you. Levine was confirmed because, like the folks running the Biden administration, a majority of the Senate ignored her horrible record as the head of our Department of Health. They didn’t care that she had made some serious miscalculations about the spread of Covid-19 and required, in much the same way as Governor Cuomo, that nursing home residents who had been hospitalized for the virus be returned to their elder care facilities. They didn’t suggest that other alternatives were feasible. They simply swallowed hook, line and sinker the explanation that Levine fought on, nobly, as her character and her person were attacked on a daily basis.
Levine was confirmed because, like the folks running the Biden administration, a majority of the Senate ignored her horrible record as the head of our Department of Health.
Don’t get me wrong. Rachel Levine was the target of insults, demeaning comments about her looks, attacks on her gender identity and a whole raft of things that had nothing whatsoever to do with her job performance. But just like those insults, her trans identity also had nothing to do with her qualifications for office, and shouldn’t protect her from criticism on that front.
And the fact is, she showed herself to be incompetent The most likely reason being because she is a pediatrician who had no business at the helm of an infectious disease task force.
During her confirmation hearing, Levine was questioned by Rand Paul, himself a physician, about her position on whether children should receive hormonal or surgical treatment for alleged gender dysmorphia. Senator Paul was even more pointed in his language, asking whether Levine felt it was appropriate to submit a child to genital mutilation. Levine demurred, politely, and never actually answered the question.
When video of the exchange was made public, Paul was widely criticized as being transphobic–the usual tactic employed by those who defend Levine. They resort to their default position whenever it appears that she has done something unethical, incompetent, troubling or something that could otherwise subject her to a malpractice suit (assuming she didn’t have the immunity that public office conveys).
As I noted on social media, medical malpractice defense attorneys could parlay that tactic into a great strategy for their doctor clients: accuse the people suing them of being bigots, and be done with the whole charade of protecting patients.
While using the old bigotry trope to defend her against these attacks is typical, it should be unacceptable.
Even if Levine were as boring and conventional in her person as, say, Marcus Welby, we should be able to call out her malfeasance without being forced to do the “but I respect her gender identity” mantra. It’s irrelevant, and it should have been treated as such by senators considering her elevation to a higher public office.
Even if Levine were as boring and conventional in her person as, say, Marcus Welby, we should be able to call out her malfeasance without being forced to do the ‘but I respect her gender identity’ mantra.
Sadly, identity politics is a sharp weapon these days, and it’s being used well to draw blood from those who challenge the cult. If we criticize someone for bad acts and they happen to be a member of a community deemed to be aggrieved and in need of empowerment, that criticism is somehow translated into a bigoted attack on their character. Even if there is a legitimate reason for the critique, it can only be bias.
On the other hand, if a person from that same community is elevated to a position of prominence, we are increasingly required to recognize their “icon” status, even though their race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation has no bearing upon their competence.
But we, and the families of those who suffered because of now Assistant Secretary of Health Levine’s decisions, must not let that exhaustion overcome us. The truth must matter.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61