and My Dad
Luke Skywalker: I Am Not Afraid
Yoda: You Will Be. You Will Be.
The Empire Strikes Back
Yoda was right. I am afraid.
There are not a lot of constants in my
life beyond my relationships with my friends and family and even they grow and
change. But everything changes all the time. That’s the nature of Nature (see
Ecclesiastes, Pete Seeger or The Byrds).
Two institutions on which I had counted on for stability are
beginning to give me concern and I am afraid of losing two touchstones that
have kept me feeling safe, even if that was a rationalization or delusion. Today,
I am afraid.
The first institution that appears to be
headed in a direction I can no longer count upon is the US government and, in
particularly, its executive branch. The movie Lincoln made it quite clear, as if
additional evidence was needed, that Congress has always been a bit
dysfunctional. Does anyone really believe that you can put 535 egomaniacs with
about 20,000 other type A staffers in the same building and expect a concerted
group effort toward productivity? Of course not.
But 16 blocks away we have had some stability in the past.
Certainly we have had some close calls, particularly around Watergate, but for
whatever reason, the Presidency has withstood various efforts to shake it to
its core and undermine the integrity of the country by undermining the credibility
of its chief executive. This has usually failed and the leadership of the man
in the White House has prevailed or he has been replaced in an orderly and Constitutional
fashion, short of a criminal conviction. None of our Presidents has ever left
office by the actions of the Congress to impeach and convict him, even when
perhaps that should have occurred for medical or other reasons (e.g., Woodrow
Wilson’s stroke or if Reagan’s dementia had really been manifest during his
time in office).
But the last President Bush left office in
disgrace. The country was in two wars of choice and not doing well in either.
The economy was in the toilet. America seemed to be mighty when it came to
military throw weight, but also mighty vulnerable and somewhat on its heels
morale-wise. At such a time it should come as no surprise that a novice
politician like Barack Obama could beat the more establishment candidate from
his own party (forget for a moment that Hillary was a woman; she was also a
symbol of the past), and then beat an American war hero in the general election.
What the whole country missed is that while he talked pretty, Barack Obama
usually said very little and certainly nothing specific. He had not given
himself sufficient time to learn how to successfully operate in Washington,
especially with regard to developing and navigating relationships with colleagues
on Capitol Hill (think LBJ or Frank Underwood), so it should come as no
surprise that his Presidency has been such a mess. Even if he might have been
ready some day to be President, it surely was not in January of 2009.
So my fear stems from having a leader who
does not know how to lead or how to protect himself from mistakes by
surrounding himself with wisdom. The latest flap about escorting the parents of
a potentially disgraced Army soldier into the Rose Garden and once again
branding Susan Rice as the designated spokesperson of untruth (“he served with
honor and distinction” when referring to Sgt. Bergdahl) while informing
Congress of none of this despite having a legal obligation to do so, is a clear
indication that, frankly, the man in the Oval Office is pretty clueless when it
comes to leadership. And he is also unable to assemble a team to help him.
Chuck Hagel looks befuddled half the time. John Kerry’s major asset for his
diplomatic role is his height. Obama’s VA and HHS secretaries were obviously
poor choices. (And let’s not forget that both Tom Daschle and Tim Geitner were
unaware of the need to pay taxes). This guy simply isn’t ready for prime time.
Lead the country? No.
I do believe that if articles of impeachment were floated in
the House, they might gain some traction and pass. I am quite sure the Senate
would not convict President Obama, but at least the people’s displeasure at
this ineptitude expressed via their representatives in the lower chamber would
be registered in public.
If you are one of my regular readers, you already know what
my second source of fear is. MD Anderson is an institution I love. I served it
for 29 years and virtually all of my best memories of my academic career
occurred there. Surely some of my best professional friends work and worked
there and the greatest oncologists I have ever known are the faculty there. But
I am afraid for my former employer.
Readers will also know that I am not fond of the leadership
that ran MD Anderson from 2001 to 2011 and for whom I worked. I felt that some
of the behavior exhibited by the leadership at that time reflected poorly on
the greatness of the faculty and staff. But NEVER would I have imagined that
the next guy would do so many things that are transparently embarrassing,
surely unethical and possibly even illegal. And then get away with all of it.
I need not reiterate the list of the Top Ten DePinho Errors,
just the latest one. If, as is alleged, great inequity, favoritism or frank
cronyism was used to overturn unanimous recommendations of the PTC, when others
who passed were candidates with lesser qualifications, and these decisions adversely
affected the lives of two loyal faculty members, that would be enough for me.
DePinho needs to be impeached. Barring that, the Faculty Senate ought to pass a
no-confidence resolution tomorrow and FedEx it to the Board of Regents.
This latest flap is clearly within the purview of the
Faculty Senate–academics. This latest bad decision by DePinho, defended by his
associates, cannot be allowed to stand if the Boyd data hold up and I have no
reason to doubt them.
I am very afraid for the future of the institution I love.
And I should be.
June 6-A Special Day
On June 6, 1944, my father awoke to thunderous noise in the
skies above him in London, England. He was a First Lieutenant in the US Army
running a motor pool for our troops in England.
He looked out his window and saw a dawn black with military
airplanes of all sorts flying across the English Channel to support the
invasion at Normandy. He told the story often.
On this day, 70 years later, please stop for a moment and
consider what the United States military did that day to save the world. Also
please consider what MD Anderson has done to save the lives of so many. Now
both the US and MD Anderson need to turn their attentions, energies, and wisdom
to saving themselves.
My father, part of the greatest generation, did not land on
Omaha Beach and in fact never made it to France at all until he traveled to
Europe with my mother much later in his life. However, like all of our military
personnel he did his part for his country.
Here’s the dedication to him from my book:
This book is dedicated to my father, Herbert W.
Zwelling, a native Midwesterner, transplanted to New York, a life-long FDR
Democrat and a social libertarian, who would have given me unbelievable grief
about my serving in a Republican office, writing op-ed pieces in the Wall
Street Journal, and fighting and scratching against an entrenched autocratic
oligarchy of transplanted Harvard graduates at MD Anderson, in Texas of all
have given me grief and loved every minute of it! After all, he was a retired U.S. Army officer
from WWII who became a draft counselor during Vietnam—and never lost a boy (or
a son) who sought his help to escape an unjust draft that led to the carnage
that in turn left the names of over 58,000 of my fellow Americans chiseled into
the V-shaped black marble that tears into the ground of the National Mall and
has a greater emotional effect on my generation than any of the lofty buildings
and monuments surrounding it. As it should.