I realize the title of this post will be considered highly controversial, even outrageous, in some quarters. In all of the other quarters, it’s more of a “well, duh!” truism, the sort of banner Captain Obvious would march under at a rally. That’s a very interesting difference of perspective, isn’t it?
It’s not hard to imagine the insults hurled by those who disagree: How simplistic! Nativist! Racist! But none of those things are implied by the assertion that the first priority of the American government should be the needs of American citizens. Just for starters, one could point out that most of the other governments in the world are playing for their own teams, first and foremost. They view international gatherings as opportunities to shake Uncle Sam down, and while they might offer lip service to the joys of selfless planetary government, they never lose sight of their own objectives.
What I’m talking about here is a question of focus and priorities. “Putting America first” doesn’t mean nothing else gets to come in second. We remain a prosperous and benevolent nation, eager to help out wherever we are needed, justifiably proud of our ability to do so. However, even a relatively small organization needs to establish priorities. Why does anyone imagine the gigantic federal government of the United States could follow a confused and dishonest list of priorities without disaster ensuing on an epic scale?
The loss of focus leads to folly. Lazy smart people do stupid things. Such is the case in Washington, which likes to view itself as a world-class accumulation of throbbing brain power. When the government loses sight of its mission and priorities… when the Ruling Class gets lost in daydreams about its agenda and ideology… the Leviathan starts slipping on banana peels.
I should point out that saying “the American government should put Americans first” means the rights of citizens must come before the ambitions of the State, which is not a bad way to summarize the essential purpose of the Constitution. Many politicians and bureaucrats with Big Ideas has dreamed of all that they might accomplish, if only the American people were prevented from diluting their authority by engaging in spirited dissent. Sorry, that’s a non-starter, thanks to the First Amendment. Or, at least, it’s supposed to be.
I’ve had more than enough of government of, by, and for the government. I hear a lot of empty praise for “the people who work hard and play by the rules,” but in practice the Ruling Class regards such people as pinatas to be beaten for money. They keep coming up with examples of People Who Work Hard and Play By the Rules who nevertheless deserve to get worked over, because they’re too successful, they’re doing something legal the Ruling Class disapproves of, or even merely because they lack the organized political clout needed to protect themselves from political banditry. Also, I can’t help noticing that the incentives against working hard are increasing, while the rules are growing so vast and incomprehensible that hardly anyone can claim to be playing by them. Neither of those features of modern society is accidental.
There’s nothing like a sensational headline-grabbing national story to illuminate the twisted priorities of the government. Ebola turns out to be positively incandescent in that regard. All sorts of priorities have been placed higher than protecting the American people from a disease that was completely unknown here until this week. Closing off air travel from the hot zone, even if an imperfect solution, would clearly be helpful. “How, exactly, would stopping the entry of people potentially carrying the Ebola virus be counterproductive?” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal wondered on Twitter.
That’s some “putting Americans first” thinking right there, Governor, which is why it’s almost completely incomprehensible to the dominant political culture in Washington. They’ve got all sorts of reasons for keeping those visas churning out to Liberia, including an institutional desire to reinforce the “border security is impossible” narrative, plus the more openly-stated desire to be seen as compassionate and accommodating to West Africa.
As Ebola expert David Qammen put it on CNN Thursday, “You can???t isolate neighborhoods, you can???t isolate nations. It doesn???t work. And people talk about, ‘Well, we shouldn???t allow any flights from Liberia.’ I mean, we in America, how dare we turn our backs on Liberia given the fact that this is a country that was founded in the 1820s, 1830s because of American slavery? We have a responsibility to stay connected to them and help them see this through.”
Ordinary, mentally healthy Americans hear something like that and their jaws drop in astonished horror. He’s kidding, right? Where’s the laugh track? But to a Ruling Class marinated in similar multi-cultural educations, this makes perfect sense. A few infected Americans is a small price to pay, as a gesture of international solidarity and American penance for our ugly history of exploitation. Only a flyover-country rube would fail to understand that the American government has other priorities to weigh against protecting Americans from an alien disease, just as it has higher priorities than maintaining any other form of border security. Everything looks so simple to those who lack nuance!
There is a very good, and very simple, reason to immediately begin restricting air travel from nations rife with Ebola: infected people from those nations are deliberately trying to come here. Such appears to have been the case with Patient One, Thomas Eric Duncan, who will be in hot water with the Liberian government for lying about his Ebola exposure on the airport paperwork, assuming he recovers from the flesh-eating virus. His former employer claims Duncan was aware of his probable infection – an easy assumption, following sustained direct contact with infectious people in Liberia – and understandably wished to reach the United States because “if he were in Liberia, he was going to surely die.” Other people will probably come to the same conclusion, and make the same effort. It’s still possible for them to reach the United States through roundabout means, but it gets significantly harder if air travel from outbreak areas is restricted. Only by abandoning the focus on doing what’s right for Americans could anyone associated with, or advising, the American government conclude it’s not worth doing, because it’ll look mean and racist, or because it will damage the economies of African nations.
For an entirely domestic example of lost focus with respect to Ebola, look at the bizarre effort by MSNBC hosts to hold the National Rifle Association responsible for the potential spread of the disease. Once again, mentally healthy people of average intelligence hear something like that and assume it’s a joke, but that’s because you Normal People are focused on the actual problem at hand, instead of considering all the secondary political ramifications, including the desire of liberals to whine about the NRA whenever possible.
The thinking, in case you don’t want to click on that link, is that since the NRA opposes President Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy – on the grounds that he’s trying to make gun control into a “health” issue – they’re responsible for the absence of a Surgeon General at this crucial moment in medical history. Among the many reasons your Normal Person brain is thinking that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard is that dealing with a viral outbreak does not require the presence of a Surgeon General, who is more of a spokesperson and political figure than anything else. You might want the Surgeon General to be an educational figure, not a political one, but good luck with that under Barack Obama. Naturally, it would never occur to his sycophants to think it’s his fault for insisting on a politicized nominee, when he could choose from among many excellent doctors who don’t think the Surgeon General should play some role in overturning the Second Amendment.
Like every other appendage of the federal government, the CDC lost focus a long time ago, and spends vast amounts of money on pursuits that have little to do with its core mission. That’s why, like every other part of the $3.5 trillion mega-State, liberals suddenly begin screaming about the evils of sequestration budget cuts and claiming the agency is broke when a crisis related to its core mission occurs. Part of a government that puts the American people first would be a government that diligently addresses its duties in the most cost-efficient manner possible, rather than diverting its funds into the distractions and obsessions of the political elite, not to mention the personal gratification of bureaucrats. This would also remove the ability of the Left to use the failures of its beloved super-government as leverage for demanding ever more money and power. There are too many palaces along the Potomac; too many aristo-bureaucrats with soaring ambitions, not enough humble public servants focused on performing their duties.
The political needs of the bureaucracy and partisan left-wingers are more important than the concerns of the American people, to the point of eclipsing them entirely. That’s how an immensely powerful media-government complex, which likes to think of itself as a super-computer, keeps acting so stupidly. Smart government would, by definition, be smaller and more focused: a government that puts the American people first. All of us, not just a few favored constituencies and big donors. As soon as we let the political class decide that some of us should be more “first” than others, we’re making the same mistake that led us to this flabby, foolish, corrupt age. A people with soaring ambitions needs a government devoid of them.