Claremont Institute’s The American Mind | Senator Bill Frist saw it coming years ago.
Senator William Frist, M.D. is a nationally acclaimed heart and lung transplant surgeon and the former Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate. In 2005, during his tenure in Congress, he delivered the Marshall J. Seidman Lecture for the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard University. In this strikingly prescient speech, he foretells the possibility of a viciously deadly pandemic and calls for action to defend against that eventuality on a vast scale. Though his warnings went unheeded, we are honored to publish his words now as part of our ongoing efforts to understand and counteract COVID-19 and its effects.
I am a physician and a surgeon who by accident of fate finds himself in the halls of power at a time of dangers for his country and the world, the most compelling of which are exactly those a physician is trained to recognize and fight. To me it seems no more natural to be a United States senator, and in my case the majority leader of the Senate, than it did to Harry Truman, who spent so many hard and unambitious years as a farmer and then found himself in such a place and at such a time as he did. And, like him, as someone who comes from the outside, and for whom the perquisites of power appear strange and irrelevant, I have asked myself what my purpose is as a public servant, what my obligations are, and what high precedents I should follow.
After some thought, I have determined my purpose, I know my duty and obligations, the precedents to honor, and why—neither history nor life itself being empty of example. Just as a surgeon must follow a purely objective course and a general must look at war with a cold and steady eye, a statesman must operate as if the world were free of emotion. And yet, to rise properly to the occasion, the surgeon must have the deepest compassion for his patient, the general must have the heart of an infantryman, and the statesman must know at every moment that the cost of his decisions is borne, often painfully, by the sovereign population he serves—all as if the world were nothing but emotion. The difficulty in this is what Churchill called the “continual stress of soul,” the rack upon which the adherents of these professions, if they meet their obligations well, will of necessity be broken.
Read More at Claremont Institute’s The American Mind: https://americanmind.org/essays/a-storm-for-which-we-were-unprepared/