The Ebola crisis — the outbreak, the halting response, the lack of federal credibility, the anxiety, the media coverage of the panic and every permutation thereof — comes at an inopportune time for the Obama administration, which had not gotten over the Secret Service scandal nor demonstrated that it had a cohesive plan for destroying the Islamic State.
To say that Ebola coverage has crowded out other news is an understatement. (Who is in the World Series?) People normally unaware of politics are becoming experts in CDC protocols and second-guessing the president’s moves. And this phenomenon is already beginning to wreak havoc on the embattled president and his fellow Democrats in ways large and small.
If you are an incumbent behind in a Senate or House race, you’ll need a whole lot of luck to catch up. In a reversal of Hurricane Sandy, which froze campaigning and allowed the president to appear presidential (remember those days?), the current crisis and the enormous media cloud that hangs over it leave Democratic incumbents at a huge disadvantage, both halting any comebacks and reenforcing their connections to an inept administration. This may be the most nationalized midterm election in history, as individual races simply become arenas in which to debate just how badly the president has performed. It is certainly not going to be easy to introduce any new themes or drop that oppo research squirreled away for the sprint to the finish. Now we are looking at a race squarely about broken and incompetent government — in other words, incumbents’ worst nightmare.
Obama obviously was already weighing down those Democrats who have dutifully and reflexively supported him since he was elected. The current emergency is helping to put the nail in the coffin of the liberal welfare state, which already was on life support. There is nothing like gross, repetitive incompetence and lack of honesty to turn people off of big government. The only ads here on out with Obama and the Democratic candidate will be GOP ads.
The Ebola crisis’s electoral implications were evident in the hearing on Thursday, when Democrats and Republicans alike grilled the head of the CDC. You can expect that the list of items that Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) came up with is going to get a whole lot of Democratic support — and raise more questions about why a Pennsylvania congressman seems more on top of this and more aggressive than the federal government. Common-sense suggestions included:
1. An immediate ban on nonessential commercial travel from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone;
2. A mandatory 21-day quarantine order for any American who has treated an Ebola patient, or has traveled to and returned from, the Ebola hot zone countries. This includes a prohibition of domestic public travel regardless of assumptions that the treating professionals wore or removed all personal protective equipment properly;
3. Immediate and thorough training for U.S. health-care and hospital workers on how to wear, use and remove personal protective equipment in the treatment of a possible Ebola-infected patient;
4. Identify and designate specific medical centers equipped and trained to treat potential Ebola patients;
5. Identify gaps in statutory language preventing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies, including Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health, from taking more aggressive and immediate action to protect the public from Ebola;
6. Accelerate directives on development and deployment of clinical trials for all promising Ebola vaccines, investigational drugs and diagnostic tests;
7. Acquisition of additional airplanes and vehicles capable of transporting American medical and military personnel who may have contracted Ebola back to the United States for treatment;
8. Additional contact tracing and testing resources for public health agencies;
9. Provide information to Congress regarding any resources needed to assist on health interventions in Africa to aggressively stop Ebola.
Even those initially skeptical of a travel ban should, in order to limit the number of potential Ebola virus carriers and to tamp down on panic, favor the administration’s cutting off nonessential travel from Ebola hot spots.
In sum, a health emergency that became a government failure that became a crisis of confidence is heading toward an electoral wipe out. Ebola will, if the trend continues, not be the cause for Democratic loss of the Senate any more than Sandy caused Mitt Romney’s defeat, but it sure does not help the party that was already coming up short.