Richard Carmona: "If You Continue Like This, I Don't See How You Can Perpetuate Democracy"

Democrat Richard Carmona's campaign team is touting a new poll that shows the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate just 2 percentage points behind Congressman Jeff Flake, the GOP frontrunner. The Public Policy Polling survey showed that 43 percent of voters were supporting Flake, 41 percent were supporting Carmona and 16 percent were undecided. The Range talked with Carmona earlier this week; we'll present our Q&A with him in several parts over the next few days. Here's the first installment.

Democratic Senate candidate Richard Carmona: You’ve got this gridlock and compromise becomes a four-letter word.
  • Democratic Senate candidate Richard Carmona: "You’ve got this gridlock and compromise becomes a four-letter word."
You’ve said it’s difficult to have a democracy when you have so many people who mistrust the government. Can you elaborate on that?

You look at the polling and as much as 90 percent of the people have no confidence in their government anymore. How can you possibly have a democracy if nine out of 10 people don’t trust the people that they’ve elected and appointed to those positions, who are essentially responsible for our destiny? So you have the debacle with Fannie and Freddie and the SEC and countless breaches of fiduciary responsibility. It’s no wonder that people have lost trust and confidence in their government. That’s juxtaposed with the fact that nobody wants to compromise anymore and the political sphere is filled with hyper-partisanship and no statesmanship. We have lots of politicians but few statesmen now. I don’t want to sound naïve, but the old days, even though each side of the aisle disagreed, they got work done. You had Goldwater and Udall, and President Reagan and Tip O’Neil, but that’s not happening today. You’ve got this gridlock and compromise becomes a four-letter word. And democracy is predicated on compromise, because we all have opinions. So how are you going to put that all together and make a decision for the greater good of a community or a nation or a world? It’s disappointing, because if you continue like this, I don’t see how can perpetuate democracy, because it’s just gridlock.

Did you see that going on in Washington when you were working as surgeon general in the Bush White House?

I would say that it was not as vitriolic and hyper-partisan as it is today, but there were times that I scratched my head and worried about both sides of the aisle. I’m not blaming either, I’m just saying, "Guys, you have to come together and we need to solve some problems." Being surgeon general is unique because you work routinely with both sides of the aisle. The issues of the health, safety and security of the nation aren’t Democrat or Republican—they’re American. And we have to figure out how to solve the problems. Even though each side of the aisle may have a different view on how these problems can be solved, the challenge is, "Let’s see if we can coalesce around these ideas and come out with something that’s a hybrid that makes sense for the greater good of the nation and the community that we’re dealing with." As we all know, generally in a democracy, no one person gets everything. You get some of what you need, but we satisfy the needs of the greater good.

After you left the Bush White House, you ended up testifying in front of Congress about some of the frustrations you experienced.

Let me point out first that this was not a voluntary thing. I was asked by Congress to please come forward and testify. I said I would be happy to, but let me suggest to you that when you send a subpoena or the request to testify, get Surgeon General (C. Everett) Koop, get Surgeon General (David) Satcher as well. And ask us all the same questions because I don’t want this to be a partisan hearing. The challenge really is that each surgeon general is an embattled position. And each side of the aisle tries to pull you left and right to basically support their thesis, whatever they happen to be. … The theme, really, that we tried to present to Congress was that it’s much too partisan now. … You are trying to politicize science and some of the issues that we deal with regarding the health, safety and security of the nation. Our testimony was to hopefully to empower Congress to take steps to take the surgeon general out of the crosshairs of politics and make it independent …. Not only that, but you should mandate that the surgeon general give a State of the Nation and Global Health every year to Congress and to the world so that the public can now hold its elected officials accountable as to what they are or are not doing based on what the scientific input was from the doctor of the nation. That doesn’t mean you have to do all of them—I don’t set policy. But the surgeon general informs us.

Next: Carmona on women's health and abortion.