Ebola and the crisis of managerial liberalism

The newspaper covers are brutal, from the New York Daily News…


… to the Boston Herald…


… which is probably why President Obama took the unprecedented step of cancelling some fundraisers so he could be seen working on the problem.  He didn’t do that for the attack on the Benghazi consulate, the murder of American hostages by the Islamic State, or the outbreak of the non-war in the Middle East – which, by the way, has finally been given a name, and it stinks: “Operation Inherent Resolve.”  I’m not sure if that’s meant to be ironic, or an assertion that the military has resolve, even if it’s damned hard to find at the White House.  I liked “Nameless Non-War” better.

At any rate, the President is clearly getting the message that he has a big problem on his hands, even though his reaction isn’t fundamentally different from the way he handles every crisis: ignore it for as long as possible, while his media sycophants crank out fawning articles about “no-drama Obama,” until the howls of outrage from the American people grow so loud that he finally has to hop off his golf cart and get photographed doing something.  It’s the opposite of his scandal protocol, in which he initially claims to have been completely blindsided by something like the corruption of the IRS, declares he’s more outraged than anybody, vows to get to the bottom of it, maybe pretends to fire someone, and then rolls away in his golf cart while the media gets busy declaring the story over.  By the time Obama reaches the ninth hole, the press is saying the whole thing is old news, and wonders why obsessive right-wingers are still asking the sort of questions journalists reserve for Republican administrations.

The White House spin doctors donned their political hazmat suits, worked through the night in their clean rooms, and came up with a focus-grouped word to saturate every press conference with: tenacious.  They’re still pretty useless for dealing with the actual disease, mind you, but they’ve got their priorities, and Priorities One through Ten are political positioning.  Every White House statement will now include repeated use of the word “tenacious,” in the hopes that media pull quotes will spread it around, Obama supporters will begin silently mouthing the word, and before long people will be reflexively talking about how “tenacious” the Administration has been throughout this ordeal.  (Hat tip to Bryan Preston at PJ Media for swiftly isolating this verbal contagion.)

This isn’t just about the White House, of course.  The entire bloated federal Leviathan is running a high fever of incompetence.  The Hill describes the Ebola crisis as “an anchor threatening to sink the Obama presidency,” which wasn’t exactly bounding across calm seas with a fair wind in its sails before now:

Already under fire from critics who saw the federal response to the outbreak as disorganized and timid, things went from bad to worse on Wednesday when it was revealed a second nurse had contracted the disease while treating a Liberian man at a Dallas-area hospital.

More alarmingly, the diagnosis was made just hours after the nurse, 29-year-old Amber Vinson, had flown from Cleveland to Dallas on a commercial airliner, despite reporting to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that she had a fever.

That Vinson was allowed to travel at all ??? along with continued questions about why federal procedures for Ebola treatment appear not to have been implemented in Dallas ??? have prompted serious questions about the administration???s handling of the disease less than three weeks before the midterm elections.

Democrats are expected to lose significant ground in those contests, in no small part due to public dissatisfaction with Obama and resilient questions about the president???s competency.

And concessions from the White House and CDC that there were multiple ???shortcomings??? in the administration???s response are only likely to deepen those fears.

That would be the same CDC that tried claiming its buffoonish response to Ebola was due to “budget cuts.”  How much of a budget do you need to tell one of the most important, highly scrutinized patients in the country, in a health crisis that has riveted the nation, that she shouldn’t get on a plane if she’s running a low fever after treating an Ebola patient?

The Hill tries to lighten the mood with some knee-slapping humor later in its piece.  I defy any reasonably well-informed American to read this without laughing out loud:

Obama hasn???t had a major error like Katrina or the War in Iraq. But the cumulative effect of careening through an unrelenting two years of crises, from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the Secret Service, has had a similar effect on perceptions of the president.

The ???No drama Obama??? White House has long prided itself on not overreacting to crises.

They say Obama is far more concerned about the nuts and bolts of governing than short-term political gains or losses playing out in the media.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest, asked Wednesday whether Obama remained confident in CDC Director Tom Friedman, said ???that pointing fingers of blame will not be constructive here.???

???What???s evident, I think, from this president???s leadership style is that he???s focused on solving problems,??? said Earnest, who steadfastly denied ulterior motives for the president???s canceling of a campaign and fundraising swing. Obama instead met with senior staff on the Ebola response. (The president also canceled his events on Thursday to focus on Ebola.)

Yes, our man Obama is quite the nuts-and-bolts no-finger-pointing problem solver, as anyone who remembers the crash and burn of the ObamaCare launch can attest.  Remember how he immediately took responsibility for the disaster, forthrightly explained to Americans why he spent absolutely zero time managing the rollout of trillion-dollar “signature achievement,” and promptly fired Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for…

Sorry, I’m laughing too hard to keep typing.  If the previous October is too far back for The Hill to remember, how about Obama creeping onto “60 Minutes” just a month ago, and trying to blame the intelligence community for his abject failure to understand the rising threat of ISIS… a load of bull that stank so much even his “60 Minutes” softball pitcher felt compelled to call him on it?  “Nuts and bolts of governing?”  This is the guy who keeps his health-care boondoggle floating by ignoring the Constitution and rewriting on the fly, the man who’s still leaning on the Bush authorization for military force in Iraq (which he made a big deal of opposing at the time!) because he doesn’t want to follow proper procedures and bring Operation Inherently Low Poll Numbers before Congress.

Obama’s incompetent and disconnected, not a steely-calm hand on the ship of State.  He doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing, and he can’t muster personal interest in anything that doesn’t increase his power.  The top managers he’s appointed at various agencies are cronies who aren’t much more qualified for their jobs than he is.  The only thing this White House does well is point fingers of blame and evade responsibility.

But as I said, this is a systemic crisis, made much worse by Obama’s ideology and lack of leadership, but not created by him.  Not by a long shot.  The crisis of managerial liberalism has been decades in the making.  Ebola arrives on the heels of the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal, the smaller but still astonishing ball-drop at the Secret Service, the stunning failure of the super-State to deliver anything remotely resembling the economic performance we were promised, and the ObamaCare disaster.  The website flame-out alone ended up costing taxpayers a billion dollars more than the already mind-boggling budget allocated for the project.  How much Ebola protection could that billion dollars have bought us, if Health and Human Services didn’t blow it on patching up a crappy website?

HealthCareDotGov spotlighted the corruption and incompetence of managerial liberalism.  The Ebola faceplant emphasizes how distracted it is.  Bales of cash were squandered on countless absurd sideshows while our health agencies not only failed to address their core missions, but became so top-heavy and politicized that their response to a sudden crisis was sluggish and confused.  Stupid drunk on taxpayer cash and flabby with bureaucracy, our health agencies got stuck in the floor when they tried to slide down the fire pole and answer the emergency bells.

“Those who have exposures to Ebola, she should not have traveled on a commercial airline. The CDC guidance in this setting outlines the need for controlled movement. That can include a charter plane; that can include a car; but it does not include public transport.” mused CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden… after an infected nurse had done exactly that, with the active blessing of his agency.  “We will from this moment forward ensure that no other individual who is being monitored for exposure undergoes travel in any way other than controlled movement.”

Well, better late than never, I suppose.  We’ll hear similar ramblings when the government finally gets around to banning commercial travel from Ebola-outbreak nations, a step they’re resisting for ideological reasons until there are a few more American outbreaks, even though over two-thirds of Americans think it should have been done immediately.  All of the things bubbling out of yesterday’s meetings and press conferences – a “SWAT team” of doctors in hazmat suits ready to drop into hospitals when an Ebola case is reported, tighter protocols for health care workers exposed to the virus – are steps the rest of us assumed were already in place.  They’re steps the average high-school student would jot down, if asked to come up with ten ideas for dealing with a disease outbreak.  For God’s sake, as John Nolte at Breitbart News has been pointing out, they’re steps Hollywood already assumed the CDC would take, in movies filmed years ago.

The Washington Times is reporting that all the way back in 2008, CDC told the incoming Obama Administration “it should establish 18 regional disease detection centers around the world to adequately safeguard the U.S. from emerging health threats like Ebola,” as part of a strategy that assumed “the U.S. shouldn???t wait for a disease to enter the country but rather monitor threats in hot spots overseas to try to help local public health authorities control outbreaks before then.”  They’re scrambling to play catch-up on that today, because Obama didn’t follow those recommendations, and two days ago he still thought this was a problem that would go away on its own while he squeezed money out of Hollywood dimwits who tell him they can hardly speak because he’s so handsome.

The Wall Street Journal brings the World Health Organization in for a thrashing, too, noting that the prestigious international body has been spending its time warning about the dangers of sports drinks and tobacco.  They zing Obama for not tumbling to the deficiencies of WHO sooner:

President Obama cancelled campaign events for an emergency White House meeting Wednesday and promised a ???much more aggressive??? U.S. response. ???These protocols work,??? he added. But he had heralded ???an all-hands-on-deck approach??? earlier this month ???to make sure that we are addressing this as aggressively as possible,??? and in September he had said that ???the chances of an Ebola outbreak here in the United States are extremely low.???

Mr. Obama would have done more good by condemning the WHO. Responding to microbiological disasters is supposedly why the WHO exists???and tens of thousands of people may die as a result of the U.N.???s failure of this test of its mission, priorities and competence. ???Yes, Ebola is truly an issue of international concern,??? Dr. Chan told reporters in Russia, ???but tobacco???if we put the evidence on the table???tobacco control is still the most cost-effective and efficient way of reducing unnecessary diseases and deaths arising from using such harmful products.???

Since the 1990s, the WHO has gradually transformed itself from a disease fighter to what Dr. Chan calls ???a normative agency??? that makes international public health rules and promotes political goals like universal coverage. ???That represented a very significant change over prior WHO policies,??? says Laurie Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations, who calls the WHO???s response to the epidemic ???just shameful.???

The Journal concludes that WHO “ought to be defunded to discipline its ineptitude and frivolity. Start with the caffeine division, and hand the money to a more serious and capable institution. The problem these days is identifying which that might be.”  That’s my advice for resolving the domestic crisis of managerial liberalism, too.  American health agencies are doing exactly the same thing as the World Health Organization, spending their billions on ideological crusades and distractions, pouring money into the commission of a bureaucratic army that will protect it from future budget cuts.  (“You can’t slash our budget and put all these fine people on the unemployment lines!” cries every threatened government agency, while private business owners can only scream impotently into their pillows after signing the pink slips.) 

That’s what every government agency does, far out into the nether regions of the bureaucratic solar system that revolves around the hot star of taxpayer money burning in Washington.  If you want smarter, faster, more effective government, slash its budget.  There is no other reform that will make much of a difference.  Not only would tax cuts plus a balanced budget amendment ignite private-sector growth, it would make the government better.  One of the plans for reaching solvency in Washington called for pinching a penny out of every dollar of spending; I’d count on such a move delivering far more than a 1 percent increase in the overall performance of the State, contrary to the predictable liberal hows about how taking a penny away from Uncle Sam means America will die.  The reverse is true – forcing the State to make do with less money would also compel it to step up its game, once all the silly threats about how the first hint of budget discipline means termination for teachers and firefighters are out of the way.  Losing the flab hanging around Leviathan’s belly would also stave off that fiscal coronary we all know is coming.  

Ironically, the government has been investing considerable effort in telling the rest of us to lose weight and get in shape, culminating in the First Lady’s destructive rampage through the school lunch program.  It’s advice we should, in turn, force Washington to follow.  The crisis of managerial liberalism was caused by giving it too much to manage, and too much money to blow.