The Candidates of Covid
By John Marshall
The campaigns for a U.S. Senate seat offer Kansans two candidates, physicians trained in the sciences but with opposite views on the corona virus. One sees the virus as a grave threat to public health, the other as peril to citizens’ “liberty.”
Roger Marshall, a Republican, was a physician in Great Bend before he was elected to the U.S. House in 2016. He often mentions his career in obstetrics and the thousands of babies he has delivered; to invigorate his eminence, he insists on being called “Dr.” Marshall, as well as Congressman Marshall. He wanted to be listed as “Doc” Marshall on the August 3 primary election ballot, but officials ruled that “Doc” was not part of his legal name.
Marshall’s status as a physician, he presumes, adds to his standing. He is a medical school graduate, someone who has studied complex sciences with success. To be a member of congress is one thing, but to be a doctor as well puts a higher polish to his prestige.
With his election to Congress, Marshall became a Trump loyalist. He has mailed thousands of campaign cards cheering his alliance with the president, their friendship, their mutual admiration, their kindred beliefs. And in this covid election year, Roger Marshall has stepped sideways from the science that reinforced the medicine he had practiced for 30 years.
In this covid-plagued election, with its many health codes and strictures, Marshall the physician has chosen to ignore that science and embrace politics.
Marshall’s Democratic opponent, Barbara Bollier, is a retired physician and state senator from Mission Hills. She believes that immunology and the science behind it have something to tell us about the virus and how to deflect it. Her first rule: wear a mask.
“Doc” Marshall scoffs at the idea. ““I tell you what, if I walk into rural Kansas with a mask on, people look at me like I’ve got three eyes or something, right?” he said after a speech in Johnson county late last month.
The advice of public health experts is so well known by now that not (wearing a mask) is “a conscious choice,” Dr. Dana Hawkinson, director of infection control for the University of Kansas Health System told the Associated Press.
Bollier relies on science. “I cannot understand why a virus is being politicized,” she told the AP. “It is public health, period.”
Two physicians campaign in a covid pandemic. One believes in the science that fortifies medicine and the battle against a virus. The other has abandoned his faith in that science.
The covid-19 tolls surge in America (6.5 million cases, nearly 200,000 dead) and in Kansas (47,000 cases, 500 dead as of last week). Marshall sidles up to the anti-science and anti-expertise streak in American culture, those who see mask-wearing as cowardly, who wear anti-intellectualism as a badge of honor. He says he is taking hydroxychloroquine, the malaria-fighter touted by Trump but dismissed as a covid prevention by medical experts. And Marshall recently gave an approving wink to a Q-anon conspiracy theory that officials are falsely inflating the number of deaths caused by the covid-19 virus.
Meanwhile coronavirus cases have doubled in Kansas in the past two months. In the state’s western two-thirds – Marshall’s 60-county congressional district – confirmed covid infections per 100,000 residents are greater than in the rest of the state.
Marshall has railed against Medicaid expansion in Kansas and has called for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, following scripts from the White House and from the Conservative Political Action Conference (C-PAC). Propaganda and conspiracies have become a matter of political survival for ambitious Republican soldiers. The truths in science and medicine must yield to the alternate reality of know-nothings, their contempt for elites, their rush to mow down alternate sources of information.
A pandemic in America has become political. In Kansas we have two candidates for an open seat in the United States Senate: one is a Republican congressman, a doctor taken to scoffing at science; the other is a Democratic state senator, also a doctor, but one who holds faith in science.
Covid presents a choice: follow the doctor who believes in science and its immutable facts, or submit to one who sniffs at that science? If we are sick, do we follow the orders of a doctor who adheres to science or the whims of one who shrugs it off?
If we are voting, do we favor the physician-candidate who believes in fact as foundation for truth, or one who would eradicate even the notion of truth?
The Marshall question is complicated. Here is a physician known to mock science and expertise, a candidate who craves new status and high praise in Washington – traits that should alarm constituents and terrify patients.