First, some good news: the first group of people exposed to Ebola Patient One, Thomas Eric Duncan, have reached the end of their quarantine periods, and none of them appear to have contracted the virus. That’s at least 48 sets of prayers answered. Let us hope the first Ebola scare ends with only the two Duncan nurses infected, and they both make full recoveries.
Such a happy ending would not excuse the government’s spectacular ineptitude in the face of the first Ebola contact on American soil. For the past couple of weeks, government elites and their media courtiers have been sneering at the American public for supposedly over-reacting to the Ebola threat. There has, unsurprisingly, been a bit of hysteria here and there – human nature remains unchanged – but it’s nothing like the cyclone of hysteria portrayed in certain media outlets. What most people are concerned about is the fumbling, stumbling response of the authorities, especially the ultimate authorities in Washington, although there’s also been some head-shaking about whatever went on at Texas Presbyterian Hospital.
The average man on the street in, say, North Carolina or South Dakota isn’t shopping for hazmat suits and expecting a cloud of Ebola to come boiling down Main Street this Halloween, leaving a trail of corpses in its wake. They’re asking how the response could have been so confused, how the huge federal agencies charged with responding to such a crisis could have gotten everything wrong, how they could spew talking points about “abundance of caution” while making ridiculously careless mistakes, such as allowing health care workers exposed to the deadly disease hop on airplanes and cruise ships without going through prudent isolation and observation periods. Watching some of these decisions changed in mid-stream, after risk had been needlessly extended to additional people – leading to such spectacles as the cruise-ship standoff off the coast of Belize – only enhances that perception of haphazard confusion. Bottom line: even if this first Ebola drama reaches the happiest possible ending, a huge amount of consternation could have been avoided by taking steps the average person would probably have scribbled on a notepad, if asked to prepare a list of 10 Things the Government Should Do After An Ebola Exposure.
It’s the Obama Administration that dissolved into hysteria and confusion, not the American public. This is a matter of concern not just because the performance of billion-dollar agencies was so disappointing – a wound Democrats proceeded to thoroughly salt by claiming the Ebola fumbles were a result of phantom “budget cuts” – but because we know more Ebola carriers are coming, and we’re hoping the next encounter goes down a lot better than the Thomas Duncan saga did. The public is looking for reassurances that lessons have been learned.
President Obama completely misread that moment by appointing a political fixer, Ron Klain, as “Ebola Czar.” If the American people had been polled on the subject last week, I doubt many of them would have said an Ebola Czar was the solution they were looking for, even if it wasn’t someone whose big previous “achievement” was arranging the Solyndra debacle. Symbolic managerial positions aren’t the answer. In fact, they’re a symptom of the disease. If this gigantic, lavishly-funded government has reached the point that a new layer of executive bureaucracy must be installed to make the other bureaucracies coordinate well enough to manage a crisis that initially involved about a hundred people, it has degenerated to a terrifying level of dysfunction.
Of course, Barack Obama is who he is, a man more captive to rigid ideology than any previous occupant of the White House in living memory. His solution to managerial incompetence is to congratulate the bumblers for a job well done – because he will not ever admit that either he, or the Big Government he loves, is capable of serious error – while installing additional managers in a symbolic gesture to reassure the public he’s on this. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal took to Twitter on Saturday to sum up the Four Stages of the Barack Obama School of Crisis Management:
1. Don’t worry, I got this.
2. I’m so mad.
3. More money will fix it.
4. Republicans are obstructing.
Along those lines, the New York Times helpfully jumped in with a Stage Two article headlined “Amid Assurances on Ebola, Obama Is Said to Seethe,” confirming the running joke about how Obama invariably claims he just read about every crisis or scandal in the papers yesterday, and he’s absolutely livid. No one is angrier about the ineptitude of the Obama Administration than the helpless spectator who just arrived in the Oval Office yesterday, and can’t believe the mess he found:
Beneath the calming reassurance that President Obama has repeatedly offered during the Ebola crisis, there is a deepening frustration, even anger, with how the government has handled key elements of the response.
Those frustrations spilled over when Mr. Obama convened his top aides in the Cabinet room after canceling his schedule on Wednesday. Medical officials were providing information that later turned out to be wrong. Guidance to local health teams was not adequate. It was unclear which Ebola patients belonged in which threat categories.
“It’s not tight,” a visibly angry Mr. Obama said of the response, according to people briefed on the meeting. He told aides they needed to get ahead of events and demanded a more hands-on approach, particularly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “He was not satisfied with the response,” a senior official said.
The difference between the public and private messages illustrates the dilemma Mr. Obama faces on Ebola — and a range of other national security issues — as he tries to galvanize the response to a public health scare while not adding to the sense of panic fueled by 24-hour cable TV and the nonstop Twitter chatter.
It’s all so unfair! No other President ever had to deal with 24-hour cable news or social media! Barack the Magnificent gets such a raw deal from you hysterical rubes! Don’t you feel ashamed now that you know how much he cares, how very angry he was when he came back from his Hollywood fundraisers and saw how badly his people had dropped the ball?
Speaking of balls, President Obama proceeded to work out his anger in the usual manner, nipping off to the golf course to play a round with ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser. He didn’t look like he was seething, but perhaps if we checked his golf balls, we’d find them cracked from the force of his infuriated swings.
As for Ebola Czar Ron Klain, he proceeded to blow off both of the weekend’s White House Ebola task force meetings, mumbling something about paperwork, and how he doesn’t really start his new job until next week. Conservative humorists could not have penned a better satire of Obama malfunction.
Obama apologists often try to excuse his managerial ineptitude, and the obnoxious amount of time he spends on leisure and fundraising, by claiming that the President can’t be expected to personally supervise everything. Wherever he goes, we are constantly reminded, he’s always in touch if needed in a crisis.
The Ebola story is just the latest in a long string of screw-ups that blow this excuse to smithereens. The system Obama has nourished by doubling the national debt is not capable of handling major developments without direct supervision – in everything from Benghazi, to the HealthCareDotGov launch, to the Ebola circus, these massive agencies and the highly credentialed supervisors Obama made such a big deal about appointing have collapsed into a squirming mass of pointed fingers, covered asses, and piteous whining about budget cuts. The only thing this government seems capable of doing with any efficiency is punishing the American people during “government shutdowns.” If only Ebola had been handled with the same efficiency that memorials were barricaded in Washington in the early hours of the fiscal standoff!
And while it’s true that the President can’t personally supervise everything, he must bear ultimate responsibility for everything his Administration does, or else he winds up supervising nothing. That’s the Obama story in a nutshell: he couldn’t even be bothered to supervise the launch of ObamaCare. He pushes his agenda, rather than attending to his duties. He is fervently devoted to the belief that giving speeches and signing bills is equivalent to problem-solving; once the next billion in spending has been authorized, the problem is solved, and if the problem isn’t solved, it means not enough money was spent. Obama views his job as an entirely political position, but it’s not. He’s the executive that never gets around to executing anything. He just makes demands and issues commands. Power divorced from responsibility and duty is not the model for the American presidency.
The real contagion at the moment is the loss of confidence in government. No cure for that will be found in the old-growth political rainforest, but that’s the only place Obama can think to look. The bottom line on Ebola is that it still holds some mysteries; the American people are well aware that trained medical staff, in both the United States and Africa, have contracted it despite using protective gear unavailable to average people. They know the current strain of Ebola has spread far more widely than ever before. The only rational procedure to handle such a contagion, and maintain public confidence, is to minimize contact until we know more about just when an Ebola victim becomes contagious, and exactly how it can be spread. One of the biggest “over-reactions” cited in the media involved schools in Ohio closing down for disinfection because a staffer flew on the same plane that carried Ebola nurse Amber Vinson, even though it wasn’t the same flight Vinson took. Is that hysteria, or is that what a real “abundance of caution” looks like? If the high-rolling big shots of the Obama Administration had been half so cautious, there would have been no story for the past week beyond Americans from coast to coast praying for the swift recovery of the two health care workers who contracted the disease after treating Duncan, and the public would be far more confident that the next Ebola arrival on our shores would be quickly and efficiently contained.