These ads are meant to stoke a general sense is that the world is spinning out of control, and only a Republican Senate can save us. As conservatives like Charles Krauthammer have argued: “Ebola has crystallized the collapse of trust in state authorities,” showing us that the Obama administration is too incompetent to handle the dangers confronting us.
But what if Ebola demonstrates exactly the opposite?
Imagine that a year ago, I told you that a few months hence, west Africa would see the largest Ebola outbreak in history. Then I explained that despite regular travel in and out of the affected countries by health professionals and ordinary people, there would be a grand total of two — not two hundred, or two thousand, but two — Americans who contracted the disease here, and both of them would be nurses who had treated a dying patient who had contracted the disease in Liberia. And I told you that both of them would be treated, and would survive and be healthy. If I had told you that a year ago, would you have said, “Wow, that sounds like a gigantic federal government failure”?
Of course not. You’d say that sounds like a public health triumph.
To be clear, I’m not arguing that there have been no mistakes. In the early days, the CDC didn’t offer clear enough guidance on prevention measures for health care professionals, which is what made it possible for those two nurses to become infected. But if you actually look at the facts, the disease has been completely prevented and contained here in the United States. It makes you wonder what the administration’s critics are talking about when they cry that the government has failed.
And right now, while the federal government is proceeding in a methodical, sober fashion to keep the disease contained, it’s state governments that are acting like fools. Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie first announced that health care workers returning from the affected countries would be quarantined for 21 days, and Christie essentially imprisoned one nurse at Newark airport. Then, when they came under withering criticism from people who actually have some expertise in this subject, they changed the policy to request that those workers quarantine themselves in their homes.
The nurse held in New Jersey, Kaci Hickox — who has no Ebola symptoms, shows no sign of being infected, and poses no danger to anyone — returned to her home in Maine and is now fighting with Paul LePage, perhaps America’s most buffoonish governor, over whether she should be confined to her home against her will. You wouldn’t trust LePage to help your third-grader with his math homework, but he professes to know something about this disease that actual public health specialists don’t.
I have little doubt that the GOP fear-mongering on Ebola will be effective in these elections, at least to some degree. People are easily frightened, and it’s always easier to get them to vote on their fears than on the facts. But if you look objectively, it’s hard to reach any other conclusion but that the federal government has done quite a good job protecting the public from Ebola.