Take Dr Vivek Murthy, who was sworn in just before Christmas as Surgeon General. Or, as the US media like to put it, “America’s top doc”.
For a start, he’s only 37, which seems very young for the holder of such a key post. Even if, in that weird way Americans have of organising things, he is technically an officer in the military.
Then there’s the fact that, like me, he was born in Huddersfield, which seems an unlikely start to such a career. But then he moved to Miami at age three, got a biomedical degree from Harvard and trained as a doctor at Yale, so you could say he’s pretty well schooled in the American way.
And he looks awfully smart, in an American way, in his sharp, pristine, gold-braided naval uniform.
The pro-gun lobby, who in the USA are used to getting their way, opposed his appointment. He’s not as keen as they are on people carrying firearms around – which seems a reasonable point of view for a top doc, if not necessarily for a top military man.
He did say he wouldn’t use the Surgeon Generalship as a “bully pulpit” from which to preach gun control. Which seems like unnecessary restraint, as well as an interesting form of words.
The fact that he found it necessary to say is in itself a shocking comment on the American addiction to weaponry.
And speaking of addiction…
Dr Murthy also has interesting views on cannabis. A substance which is arguably less addictive than gun-toting, and certainly a lot less lethal.
His latest pronouncement on the matter has predictably produced a chorus of cheers on one side and boos on the other.
He says the drug “can be helpful” for some medical conditions. Which is a simple truth that ought not to be controversial (see below).
While 23 states have already legalised cannabis for medical use – and four now allow recreational use – it remains classified at the highest level under US federal law. Up there with heroin and LSD and above cocaine and crystal meth, which are much more dangerous.
But the really interesting part of Dr Murthy’s statement could apply just as well to everything else the government – any government – takes a position on.
It was this: “I think we have to use data to drive policymaking”.
In other words, he thinks politicians should take notice of expert opinion.
That policy should be based on verifiable research, not gut feelings. On facts, not instant media approval ratings. On tested science, not vested interests.
What sort of fantasy world is the man living in?
The cynic in me says: “He’ll learn”. But how much better it would be if the politicians learned from him, rather than the other way around.