Like everything else that comes out of this administration, the announcement of Laura Bush's treatment for skin cancer shows us once again that the Bush administration has a mistakenly warped idea of what is and isn't the people's business.
At the White House press briefing today:
Q Tony, can you tell us about Mrs. Bush's skin cancer? How is she doing? And how was the decision reached not to disclose this publicly until questions were asked?
MR. SNOW: Yes, I talked to her a couple of minutes ago. She's doing fine. And she said, "It's no big deal, and we knew it was no big deal at the time." Frankly I don't think anybody thought it was the sort of thing that occasioned a need for a public disclosure. Furthermore, she's got the same right to medical privacy that you do. She's a private citizen; she's not an elected official. So for that reason she didn't disclose it. But she's doing fine, and thank you for your concern.
Q She is often an advocate for women's health in the area of breast cancer or heart disease, advocating screenings, preventative care. Is she likely to talk about skin cancer in that way?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. Fortunately, squamous cell carcinoma, at least in this particular case, was not dangerous. But let me just say, without having cleared it with her, I'm sure that she would be more than supportive of anybody to go out, and if you think you've got a problem with a change in a mole or some skin problems, go get it checked out by a doctor.
Q And she didn't feel any obligation as a person of public status to talk about this?
MR. SNOW: No, again, there are any number of -- this is a room full of public people who tend not -- and I know you say, wait a minute, I'm different than the First Lady. Well, no, she's a private citizen. And the fact is, she is entitled to her medical privacy. And, again, it's no big deal. In this case, it's just not a big deal.
Q May I follow on that? The President is also a private citizen, as well as being the President. So --
MR. SNOW: Well, he's an elected official. It's different.
Q He's an elected official and a private citizen. You can make the same claims of a number of people who have public lives. Mrs. Bush has made herself part of this party and this White House's very public face. So my question is, if this were to be something that is a big deal, would the White House feel obliged to share that with the public?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. She didn't feel obliged, and she believes that she has the same medical privacy rights that you and I have.
Q Did the White House doctor treat her?
MR. SNOW: That I don't know. I didn't ask. There is the confidentiality -- and guess what? Medical privacy also applies to her case in this particular incident.
Q This morning you said you'd make that inquiry.
MR. SNOW: Yes -- you know what, I didn't.
Q But you will?
MR. SNOW: No. It's medical privacy, and I'm not going to get into this.
Q Was it done offsite or was she treated here at the White House? That's a question to add to your list.
Q May we ask, just so that you don't say, you never asked so that's why we haven't told you -- is the Vice President well these days? Has there been any medical incident that would be of interest to the American public?
MR. SNOW: As you know, whenever there is a medical incident involving the Vice President -- I've been an anchor when these things have happened -- you are notified promptly and immediately; cameras are dispatched to the scene, where people stand and wait and wait and wait and wait, until they can see the Vice President getting back into a limo and returning to wherever he is.
So as you know, the President and Vice President, being the two chief elected officials in this country, if there are important health developments, you hear about it. And we think that that's appropriate.
Q Tony, on this point, did the First Lady say she actually does not plan to come out in any way? You know, as someone who would advocate for people --
MR. SNOW: Let me repeat to you exactly what she said. She said, "It's no big deal, we knew it wasn't a big deal at the time." Apparently, she's wrong about this.
Q No, what I'm saying is, as far as encouraging people to be checked. What I'm saying is even though she may not be an elected official, she's a very public official and very well loved. And as someone who has two adolescents who don't like to listen to mother when she says, put on the sun screen, get out of the sun, she could potentially have a great influence on a lot of people's lives, especially young women.
MR. SNOW: She's also had colds, she's had the flu, she's had stomach aches --
Q When? (Laughter.)
Q But those tend not to be --
MR. SNOW: -- she's had a number --
Q Melanoma can kill, skin cancer can kill. It can be very serious.
MR. SNOW: This particular one could not.
Q But she could still -- it could be a platform.
MR. SNOW: You guys are really stretching it. I mean, it is now officially a really slow news day.
There's no pleasing Tony Snow. When the media does as the administration wants and turns their already short attention span from the escalating violence that is a civil war in Iraq, Snow still slams them.
The role of the wife of the President of the United States is, unofficially, as an ambassador and hostess. The Office of the First Lady has a multimillion-dollar budget paid for by the people of the United States. The First Lady employs a chief of staff, a press secretary, a social secretary, and at least a dozen others.
Laura Bush, like all First Ladies since Eleanor Roosevelt, has traveled around the world separately from her husband on public business and at the public's expense. Taxpayers pick up the tab for her travel when she is sent by the RNC around the nation, for purely political purposes, to campaign for Republican candidates. Taxpayers pick up the tab for Secret Service protection of the First Lady and all other members of the President's immediate family. This is done strictly for the peace of mind of the President of the United States. The American people have much at stake in the peace of mind of the President.
So when Tony Snow states that Laura Bush is "a private citizen with the same medical privacy rights as you and me," no, she isn't. That ship sailed when she stayed married to "Bushie" when he decided to run for public office. The American people have every right to know what may be preoccupying (or what potentially could be or will be preoccupying) the President's mind. Tony's Snow's dismissal of squamous cell carcinoma as "no big deal" (or her squamous cell carcinoma) isn't anything that I would take Snow's word for. Or anybody's in this administration - their relationship with truth is casual, if not altogether absent. It's been about six weeks since Laura Bush had the tumor removed from her shin, and she's still wearing a bandage over the site. That wasn't just a few cells scraped off the top layer of skin; it was "the size of a nickel," "a sore that wouldn't go away." That's a significantly sized growth that she obviously didn't seek treatment for right away as her spokeswoman tried to claim.
But I wish some member of the press corps in the room had asked Snow, "What medical privacy rights do you and I have?"
Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress gutted them.
Filed under: reasons not to vote for Republicans, GOP, health, squamous cell carcinoma, privacy, Tony Snow, skin cancer, Laura Bush, Bush, The Constant American, Constant American, Technorati Tag, Technorati Tags, tags, categories