PHOTO: U.S. Senate Candidate Manny Sethi speaks at the Old Natchez Country Club in Franklin Wednesday. / Photo by Alexander Willis
Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Manny Sethi talks border wall, Obamacare and more at Old Natchez Country Club in Franklin
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
Manny Sethi, a Nashville orthopedic trauma surgeon who recently announced his bid for U.S. Senate, spoke in Franklin Wednesday about what he would do – if elected – to curb mass shootings, make healthcare more affordable, stop illegal immigration and more.
Who is Manny Sethi?
Sethi is an associate professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, director of Vanderbilt Orthopedic Institute Center for health policy, and is the founder of Healthy Tennessee, a nonprofit organization that promotes health education through providing free health screenings, holding educational summits and combating the ongoing opioid crisis. Sethi is a graduate of Harvard Medical School, and has also contributed to well over 100 articles in peer-reviewed medical journals.
Sethi is a second-generation immigrant, with his parents moving to Ohio from India before he was born. When he was four years old, Sethi’s parents moved to Hillsboro, Tennessee and became doctors, eventually inspiring Sethi to go into the medical field himself.
When discussing his parents, Sethi was quick to note that they had both ‘waited their turn’ to become citizens of the United States, something Sethi said was the “American way.”
“Start talking to my mom about illegal immigration and she’ll get all fired up,” Sethi said. “What she’ll tell you is, ‘I stood in line, your dad stood in line, we waited our turn.’ That is the American way, it is not racist to talk about illegal immigration. I support the president. We need a wall, we need something to stop this flood of illegal immigration, flood of all these drugs coming over the border.”
Speaking of drugs, Sethi has had a long history of combating the ongoing opioid crisis through his nonprofit – an epidemic that claims the lives of 130 American lives every day according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). While speaking at the country club, Sethi called the opioid crisis the “HIV crisis of our time,” and vowed that if elected, he would push even harder to stop the epidemic dead in its tracks.
“More medication-assisted treatment facilities, more mental health facilities for these recovering addicts in the places we need them,” Sethi said as a proposed solution to the opioid crisis. “And then finally, when these folks get out of addiction, we need to keep them out with faith-based recovery, with meaningful employment. We can do it, but it has to be local control – not the federal government.”
Perhaps the topic Sethi spoke most passionately about was healthcare, which may come as little surprise given his career. Sethi was quick to criticize Obamacare – also known as the Affordable Care Act – as a “bag of goods,” and even took shots at Republican leadership for failing to repeal the federal statute.
“Our country faces a lot of problems… the first one is healthcare,” Sethi said. “Who in this room likes Obamacare? That guy sold us a bag of goods when he told us that getting government in the middle between your patient and a doctor is going to help. It’s crazy what Obamacare has done.”
“The conservative movement has failed everybody in this room. Mitch McConnell has failed everybody in this room. Why do we still have Obamacare? We need a new healthcare plan, with a powerful individual insurance market that allows more choice, that allows for competition across state lines. We need to move away from this large employer-based plan that we have and allow more people to compete.”
“You should be able to go out to an individual market without the hand of government and buy the insurance you want. Get rid of these essential health benefits [and] I promise you, premiums will go down, deductibles will go down… healthcare will get better.”
When asked what he thought of proposals from 2020 Democratic candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who have both called for the complete eradication of the private healthcare industry, Sethi said such ideas were “doubling down” on Obamacare.
“They’re doubling down on a failed plan of more government in the middle of healthcare,” Sethi said. “I think what we’re clearly seeing here is that we need government out of the way of healthcare, we need free market-based principles in healthcare.”
An audience member asked Sethi where he stood on vaccines in regards to claims linking them to a rise in autism diagnoses, a claim that has been strongly dismissed by the CDC.
“We vaccinate our kids,” Sethi said. “I’ve looked at the data and I made that decision, and I don’t think there’s a clear link. That’s me as a physician. I guess the question is still out there, and we need more analysis.”
“As a senator, as someone who strongly believes in the constitution, I don’t think vaccinations should be mandatory. But then as a doctor, I do see the benefit, but I also understand those folks who aren’t [seeing that], because there is some data out there that has been shown that there’s a link. Some people say that data’s questionable, other people say it’s good.”
Ultimately, Sethi advocated for more prospective studies on the topic, claiming that the majority of studies on vaccine safety are retrospective rather than prospective.
Regarding the prevention of future mass shootings, Sethi dismissed Democratic solutions such as red flag laws, calling them a “violation of the Constitution,” and instead suggested expanding mental health services across the country to combat the issue.
“All of these mass shootings that have happened – I do not for one second believe that any of these laws that people are trying to put in; [changing] the way we do background checks, these crazy red flag laws, I don’t think that’s going to change anything,” Sethi said. “Here’s the problem in my opinion: the problem is not our guns, the problem is our phones,” Sethi said, pulling his smartphone out of his pocket.
“What do I mean by that? I mean that we’re all so isolated right now, and we spend so much time on these phones, and mental health problems have become such a huge deal in our country that we’re not talking about it enough. So if we want to solve some of these mass shootings, we need to open up mental health clinics in every city in America.”
One audience member asked Sethi that if he were elected, whether he would “help get rid of Common Core” – an educational initiative aimed at establishing consistent educational standards across states. The individual also said that “comprehensive sexuality education is sweeping our country,” calling it “egregious” and “god-awful.”
“In my opinion, when you’re going to educate children, that is a local issue, that is not a federal issue,” Sethi said. “About seven years ago, I did this program with at-risk kids, and so I was in schools all across the state. The teachers were so frustrated with Common Core, and I think Common Core shows you, inherently, why the federal government getting in the middle of education is a failure. And this Tennessee Ready business – which is like Common Core light – it’s the same deal.”
“So you have my word that if there is any way humanly possible to bring the decision making back to you, you will have it, because you know more than these bureaucrats who have been in office for 30 years and think they know better.”
Sethi’s would-be Democratic opponent
Were Sethi to win the primary election in March of 2020 and become the Republican nominee for Senate, it’s likely his opponent would be James Mackler, Democratic front-runner for the U.S. Senate seat from Tennessee.
“He’s a nice guy, I just very much strongly disagree with his stances President Trump,” Sethi said about Mackler. “I think he’s for infanticide and all these awful things, which frankly, I cannot understand how a human being can support some of that stuff. I’m sure he’s a nice man, but his values are very different than mine.”
When asked what he would like to accomplish during his first year in office were he to be elected, Sethi was quick to respond.
“The first year I want to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Sethi said. “I want to help solve this immigration crisis, I want to help get this border wall built, because I really believe it can make a difference – not only for immigration, but for all these illegal drugs that are pouring in our country.”
“I’ve never run for anything, not even student council. I’m doing this because I deeply care. My faith, everything in my body my whole life has taught me to try to help people, to make a difference. If that’s what you want in your next U.S. Senator, I’m your guy.”