Just what we need: another television celebrity running for public office.
Dr. Mehmet Oz has announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for Senate from Pennsylvania. Oz, who became a national figure thanks to Oprah Winfrey’s promotion of him, is doing his best to sound like the party’s leader, Donald Trump.
“We must confront those who want to change the very soul of America and reimagine it with their toxic ideology,” Oz said in his announcement. “We need to fight for the benefit of our descendants. ”
Oz has long been on the outs with the medical establishment because of his questionable – some say crackpot – advice, like plugging green coffee extract as a “miracle” weight loss product. His fellow doctors have written to the Columbia School of Medicine demanding he get booted off the faculty for “his disdain of science” and promotion of “quack treatments.”
And that was pre-COVID. Since the pandemic, Oz has been following the Republican line of complaining about mandates while promoting unproven treatments. He called on Fox News viewers to join in an at-home hydroxychloroquine clinical trial, as if it’s totally normal for people to dose themselves without a doctor’s help and then self-report the results. (No surprise; the CDC says the drug is ineffective against COVID.)
Oz used his MD credentials (he’s a cardiac surgeon) to suck up to Donald Trump, first hosting the then-candidate on his show in 2016. It was a match made in celebrity PR heaven: two television hucksters joined at the hip. Oz dutifully touted Trump’s role in speeding production of a COVID vaccine, while simultaneously bemoaning the death toll from the pandemic – much of which was caused by Trump’s mishandling of it.
Instead of discussing Trump’s missteps, Oz said the problem was that alternate ideas – perhaps including Trump’s call to inject bleach to kill the virus – were stifled by, you know, medical experts.
“COVID-19 became an excuse for the government and elite thinkers who controlled the means of communication to suspend debate,” said Oz, who is not an epidemiologist or virologist. “Dissenting opinions from leading scholars were ridiculed and canceled so their ideas could not be disseminated.”
Unfortunately, COVID isn’t the only thing Oz has been wrong about. In 2012, he aired a program that looked at “both sides” of reparative therapy, the harmful practice based on the discredited claim that gay people can be “cured” of their homosexuality. He subsequently said in a blog post that he thought that the form of psychological torture was “harmful,” but he never said as much on the more widely watched show.
To give Oz credit, he has earned a reputation as a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon, which is what brought him to Oprah’s attention. However, he has since distinguished himself, in the words of New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, as “a carnival barker.”
Of course, that makes him fit right into today’s GOP. Oz is swooping in to fill the vacuum left when the leading GOP prospect, Sean Parnell, withdrew from the race. Parnell, whom Trump had endorsed, was accused by his ex-wife of domestic abuse, allegations that a judge in a custody battle found credible.
One problem that Oz has in the race: he doesn’t live in Pennsylvania. In fact, he lives across the river from New York City, in New Jersey. Whether that will matter to the voters in Pennsylvania remains to be seen. The state will be a crucial battleground for Democrats next year in their uphill battle to hold onto the razor-thin Senate majority. If Oz treats policy as cavalierly as he treats medicine, it will be quite a campaign.
If Oz wins, the first person he should thank is Oprah. Perhaps her other medical protégé, Dr. Phil, will follow in his footsteps.