MAGA: Attitude Or Policies? One MD Anderson: Ditto

MAGA: Attitude Or Policies? One MD Anderson: Ditto


Leonard Zwelling

Peggy Noonan does a deep dive into MAGA-world in The Wall Street Journal on May 21. She notes that most Republican voters are really aligned with traditional Republican values like lower taxes, less regulation, and restraint in federal spending. Most of these voters also align with Mr. Trump’s policies, but so not much with Mr. Trump who has worn out his welcome except among those followers who see MAGA as more an attitude of belligerence than a set of policies with which to govern. These “MAGA attitudinists” are the ones who booed Mr. Trump when the former President advocated Covid vaccinations. Many were also busy in Washington on January 6, 2021.

Now the more traditional Republicans are fully aware that they cannot win without the MAGA-attitude crowd, but they sure might want to win without Mr. Trump. Ms. Noonan quotes Ken Spain a GOP strategist when he says, “the so-called MAGA movement is bottom-up…not one to be dictated from the top down.” As Ohio Senate Republican candidate Kathy Barnette said, “MAGA does not belong to President Trump…Our values never shifted to President Trump’s values. It was President Trump who shifted and aligned with our values.”

These are all critically important observations and give many hope that somehow, the successful policies of the first three years of Donald Trump’s administration can be reinstituted without the presence of Mr. Trump who is old, tired, worn out and more a follower of his base than a leader of it. His genius was speaking to the base in 2016 when his opponents like Jeb Bush did not. Since then, he has been chasing that base to keep up and lately falling quite short as he is doing nothing more than selectively endorsing candidates, some who win and some who lose.

While it may be true that the Democrats are in desperate need of new leadership given the age of Biden, Pelosi and Schumer, the Republicans need new blood as well. The difference is that the GOP has that new blood waiting on the sidelines ready to pounce once Mr. Trump gets out of the way–if he does. Either way, taking Mr. Trump out of the equation provides more room for policy discussion and less for attitude, belligerence and other forms of bad behavior.

Is the same true at MD Anderson?

Dr. Pisters is an advocate of the One MD Anderson message, but that is not a policy for excellence. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s a formula for regression to the mean, mediocrity, and a devaluation of the unique contribution of the faculty to the stellar history of MD Anderson, which many view now as in jeopardy.

MD Anderson has suffered through twenty years of sub-standard leadership. First, there was the conflicted leadership of the late Mendelsohn years when more attention was paid to Enron and ImClone than to clinical and scientific excellence. Then came the brief DePinho fiasco where institutional spending exceeded all previous levels, clinical medicine was devalued, and administrative leadership at all levels was banal at best. Now we have many of the DePinho crowd still operating in that administration with no vision at the top. At least DePinho had some ideas. Is One MD Anderson an idea or the latest catch phrase from Dr. Pisters’ newest consultant—an academic attitude?

MD Anderson needs a rapid upgrading of its departmental, divisional, and vice presidential leadership if it is to rise to its previous leadership role in American oncology. What is amusing is that Dr. DePinho probably had the right idea in combining scientific excellence with commercial application. He just picked the wrong crew to institute his vision. Dr. Pisters doesn’t even have that. He’s more worried about whether anyone has been bullied than whether anyone has discovered a new treatment for cancer.

MAGA’s down side is its attitude. Its upside are the policies that led to American prosperity which has now been thoroughly squandered—first by Covid, then by Biden.

One MD Anderson is also an attitude and a silly one. Only true scientific and clinical excellence with a unique focus on faculty accomplishment and administrative leadership will reclaim the MD Anderson of the 1990s and before. Let’s get started.

2 thoughts on “MAGA: Attitude Or Policies? One MD Anderson: Ditto”

  1. I hope that you won’t be arrested for “sedition” by some MD Anderson Militia! Stay alert! Take different routes to the grocery store, and keep on writing these engaging columns.

    1. Leonard Zwelling

      Thanks, but MD Anderson is but one example of what is happening throughout academic medicine. Consider where the best science is right now. Mostly Boston, San Diego, San Francisco and some in Philadelphia and New York. The science is being driven by pharma and industry more than by NIH grants. Houston will have a struggle in this environment, I believe.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *