Dr. Deborah Birx is a cross between Marie Curie and Grace Kelly. To say that her resume is impressive is a laughable understatement, given the fact that she has a medical degree from the Hershey Medical Center, several fellowships at Walter Reed, has attained the rank of colonel in the United States Army, was nominated to an ambassadorship by President Barack Obama, has been awarded the Legion of Merit, has served as the head of the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s Division of Global HIV/AIDS and, as a senior at Carlisle High School in beautiful Carlisle, Pa., won the Grand Prize at the Capital Area Science Fair. Not shabby at all.
She is also, it must be mentioned, poised and beautiful, with a penchant for scarves. This is the type of woman who could persuade me to be a feminist if feminism actually stood for achievement and inspiration instead of grievance and marginalization. I say that because I’ve noticed a large number of women who normally tout “girl power” being quite critical of this role model for females everywhere, particularly those who are interested in the STEM fields.
The reason that these women are less than enamored of Dr. Birx has less to do with what she herself has accomplished, and more to do with the person she is currently associated with: President Donald Trump. Birx, along with Dr. Anthony Fauci, are the calm and confidence-inspiring heads of the Coronavirus Task Force, and have provided a valuable bridge between the often confusing messaging from the White House and the media who are ready to pounce on every misstep from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.. I call them the “Trump Hater Whisperers,” in that they are attempting to keep the focus on the science when both the president and his more rabid critics are infinitely more interested in the politics.
Unfortunately, and ironically, that has become Dr. Birx’s undoing. While many Americans are justifiably enamored of Dr. Fauci, who is by all metrics heroic, there has been a souring on Deborah Birx. Not coincidentally, that flattening of the curve in her own stellar reputation among certain groups on the left coincides with her refusal to actively contradict President Trump, or provide the sort of push back they deem appropriate. And women have been the most critical.
Emily Nussbaum, a writer at the New Yorker, tweeted this out over the weekend:
“Dr. Birx is going to leave a horrible legacy. It’s one thing to be a cynical paid fixer. It’s worse, in my eyes, to be the expert who props up the mad king. I get that it’s an emergency & I understand the theoretical strategy she may think she’s pursuing, but it’s a moral horror.”
Nussbaum was not alone. A number of commentators in the official world of punditry, as well as the self-styled experts on social media have made negative comments about how Dr. Birx is essentially a sell-out, or worse.
Frida Ghitis, a world affairs columnist at CNN, penned a column about the “ethical” choices that she believes Birx has to make, noting that “Birx has done a superb job in the US-led global campaign against HIV-AIDS. Making her the pandemic point person is one of the best moves by the administration. But her efforts to please Trump have cut into her dignity and credibility.” One might question the credibility of the author, whose premise appears to be that anyone who collaborates with the White House has a moral cavity.
Not all critics have been women. Activists from the LBTQ community, people who would otherwise be grateful for her groundbreaking work in AIDS prevention and treatment, have weighed in with criticism. Tim Murphy penned a column for BodyPro, a publication geared toward HIV issues entitled “Has Deborah Birx Crossed the Line,” which was rather rhetorical since he spent the column arguing that she had.
It is legitimate to disagree with the president. In some cases, it is necessary. He is not a scientist, and is smart enough to understand his limitations (even though his sense of protagonism leads him to make ill-advised comments about cleaning items). But he deserves credit for choosing Birx and Fauci to lead his brain trust..
What is not legitimate is second-guessing a world-renowned expert in immunology who isn’t enough of an anti-Trumper to please those who bash Trump supporters in the head with their “Hate Has No Home Here” signs.
And the ones who anger me the most are women. That whole “female solidarity” Schtick wears thin when we see that certain females will never earn the respect of institutional feminists unless they tow the ideological line. We have seen that over and over, with Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Jodi Ernst, Martha McSally and Pam Bondi, just to name a few accomplished public officials.
The point is, Deborah Birx does not have to answer to anyone other than herself. She owes no explanations, and her moral center is not subject to debate. The fact that she is collaborating with a president some people hate is beside the point.
This Pennsylvanian is the keystone to our health. Her critics are irrelevant.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and resident of Delaware County. Her column usually appears Sunday. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.