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Rochelle Walensky and the return of competence

After a parade of sheep and charlatans posing as White House-endorsed public health officials, Joe Biden’s selection of Rochelle Walensky to head up the CDC suggests that conviction and competence are back in vogue in the Beltway.

Signage outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg

So, of all people, Rudy Giuliani caught the virus.

Who woulda thunk it?

A paragon of virtue and prudent circumspection, Rudy has been gallivanting all around the country, sans mask, trying to convince anyone who would listen that his client, Donald Trump, didn’t lose the election.

During one of his Rocky Horror Picture Shows in Michigan, Rudy actually tried to coax one of his witnesses to remove the mask she was wearing so state legislators could hear her better. The witness, a poll worker with more sense than the president’s lawyer, demurred.

Some people, including the most cynical among us, have suggested Rudy’s barnstorming tour has produced absolutely nothing, nada, zilch.


But that’s a scurrilous lie.

Rudy single-handedly managed to get the Arizona Legislature to shut down out of concerns that he infected a number of Republican legislators who were dumb enough to pose for photos with him.

Rudy has managed to demonstrate, beyond any reasonable doubt, that he is perfectly cast to be chief counsel to the most incompetent president and administration in the history of the republic.

Seriously, at this point, wouldn’t it take less time and effort to run a list of people in the president’s inner circle who haven’t tested positive for COVID-19? What a shower of fools.

Rudy tweeted that he was resting comfortably, which is certainly good news. No word yet whether being completely divorced from reality increases the prospect of developing antibodies, but we’ll all keep our fingers crossed.

Rudy’s diagnosis provides the absurd relief against which some really encouraging news has emerged.

Joe Biden has selected Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of infectious disease at Massachusetts General Hospital, to take over the CDC.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky.Jeffrey Andree/MGH

Walensky, a quality professional and person by many accounts, takes over an agency that has been politicized and whose credibility has been undermined by the Trump administration.


After seeing not only his colleague Walensky selected but another former colleague at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dr. Vivek Murthy, tapped to return as surgeon general, Dr. Paul Sax, the clinical director of infectious diseases at the Brigham, seemed to encapsulate the pinch-me-is-this-real reaction of most doctors and scientists, noting that the appointments that Biden has made in public health “have been based on talent, character, and achievements.”

Imagine that?

Appointing accomplished, respected professionals like Walensky and Murthy stands in blaring contrast to the quacks that Trump routinely trotted out to prop up his wacky, unscientific approaches to combating the pandemic.

Five words: Scott Atlas and Stella Immanuel.

Only the best, indeed.

It wasn’t just that Trump had the audacity to promote the likes of Atlas and Immanuel. With the notable exception of Dr. Anthony Fauci, many of the experts charged with advising the president were afraid of offending Trump by actually telling him he was wrong.

Who can forget Dr. Deborah Birx sitting there passively, blinking, when Trump suggested that injecting disinfectants might help? In fairness, Birx has been more outspoken of late.

Walensky’s predecessor, Dr. Robert Redfield, made the Chamberlainesque mistake of trying to appease a president who pretended that he knew more than any doctor and acted as if the nation’s health agencies and professionals worked for him instead of the American people.


Fauci praised all the Biden health appointees, noting that he has worked extensively with Walensky and Murthy over the years. So beyond competence, there will be symmetry, continuity, and, dare I say, mutual respect.

The disconnect between the authentic medical community and the quacks that Trump favored hurt the nation’s health.

Rochelle Walensky is more than a well-respected specialist in the very field most needed as the country faces its biggest public health challenge since the 1918 pandemic.

She is a reassuring symbol in a most unnerving time, a bright, glowing endorsement of ability, embodying the suggestion that competence has returned, that after years of some of the most important jobs in government being awarded to people on the basis of blind loyalty instead of objective capability, things will change.

Knowing what you’re doing matters again.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe reporter and columnist who roams New England. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.