Something Even Worse than the Ebola Virus

If you didn’t realize it sooner, you can certainly see it now: Watching the American government respond to the Ebola outbreak is an utter fiasco in progress.

It’s a reminder of how we cannot actually trust the federal government to do much at all. Especially not anymore.

Consider the example of a travel ban. The head of the CDC, Tom Frieden, said Saturday that imposing a travel ban between the U.S. and West African countries dealing with the Ebola virus could worsen the outbreak that has killed over 3,000 people in five countries.

“Though we might wish we can seal ourselves off from the world, there are Americans who have the right of return and many other people that have the right to enter this country,” Dr. Thomas Frieden told a press conference. “We’re not going to be able to get to zero risk no matter what we do unless we control the outbreak in West Africa.”

While there might be reasons to argue against a travel ban, I don’t see how this is one. Of course people have a right to enter and exit the country. But if it actually risks spreading a disease that could kill innocent people, do individual rights apply in that context? How could any sane and reasonable person justify such a thing, in principle? Note that Frieden is not merely claiming that the Ebola virus is not contagious enough to warrant such an action; he’s against such an action, in principle.

Frieden added that a travel ban could make it difficult to get medical supplies and aid workers to the affected regions in West Africa.

Again: Is this a reason not to support a travel ban? Are getting aid and supplies to affected regions of West Africa more important than protecting American citizens from illness or death that could otherwise be prevented? Is the federal government of the United States just as responsible for the well-being of people in West African nations as it is for American citizens themselves? Or even more so, as these statements of the CDC imply?

If so, does it work in reverse? If Americans were spreading an illness in West Africa, would the federal government of the U.S. prevent citizens from going there so as not to cause an outbreak there? I imagine that the same people who oppose a travel ban on infected people traveling from West Africa to the United States would never oppose a travel ban in the opposite direction, in the unlikely event such a situation developed. They’d probably say things like, “We have no right to spread diseases to innocent people in foreign lands.” If so, what justifies the inconsistency?

I recognize that there are conflicting reports about how easily Ebola virus can be spread. A lot hinges on that fact. If it cannot be spread from person to person like a cold or flu virus, and can only be spread with great difficulty, it certainly suggests different attitudes, policies and actions.

What disturbs me about the CDC refusal to even consider a travel ban is the reasoning given. The CDC is basically saying, “People have a right to enter the country — even if they’re a physical threat to others.” The principle implied here is obvious: We must sacrifice our well-being — even our lives — for the sake of the well-being of people in less developed countries, particularly.

This basically means that we cannot count on the federal government to protect us when it really matters. Sure, we can count on the federal government to be our nursemaids, our retirement pension holders, our babysitters, our corporate subsidy and farm subsidy distributors, our mortgage brokers, our free cell phone providers and our food stamp suppliers. There’s virtually no limit to what the federal government will do for us; all it requires is another increase in the infinite debt ceiling “limit.” But when it comes time to protect us from real and actual threats — well, not so fast.

“We really need to be clear that we don’t inadvertently increase the risk to people in this country by making it harder for us to respond to the needs in those countries,” he said, “by making it harder to get assistance in and therefore those outbreaks would become worse, go on longer, and paradoxically, something that we did to try and protect ourselves might actually increase our risk.”

Wow. This is really tortured reasoning. He’s basically saying: “If we don’t allow infectious people into the country, then we can’t allow people out to treat the infected in other countries. That way, the disease will only spread further.” But if we’re not letting infected people into the country, why is that such a problem? And if getting people cured in other countries is such a desperate priority for this country, so that people can be safer in this country, then why are we letting people into the U.S. who have the virus? It’s contradictory on its own terms.

Again, I am not claiming to know how much of a medical threat the Ebola virus is. It depends on which medical expert you read. But it’s clear to me that our federal government is already saying that even if Ebola proves to be the twenty-first century version of the Black Plague, it will be business as usual with respect to immigration and travel.

It’s yet another sorry, and potentially catastrophic, illustration of how the federal government cannot (any longer) be trusted to act with basic rationality, competence and even good will towards the well-being of its own citizens. And evidently more and more people agree, if only on a subconscious or purely emotional level. Consider the findings of a recent Associated Press poll, conducted before the Ebola outbreak:

The poll found that Democrats tend to express more faith in the government’s ability to protect them than do Republicans. Yet even among Democrats, just 27 percent are confident the government can keep them safe from terrorist attacks. Fewer than 1 in 5 say so on each of the other issues, including climate change.

When asked how confident they were that the “U.S. government can effectively minimize the threat Americans face” from “racial tensions,” 61% of likely voters said “not too confident” or “not at all confident.”

On an unstable job market, just 12% of likely voters said they were “extremely” or “very confident” in government’s ability to help.

So what’s the answer? Anarchy? No, not anarchy. But we’d be wise to consider the words of Thomas Jefferson here: “That government is best which governs least.”

The problem here is that the government is doing so much of what it cannot do, and should not be doing, that it can’t even do what it reasonably might be expected to do.

It’s hard enough to form and maintain a government that can protect us from things like Ebola and terrorism. There’s always room for rational debate, in the context of free speech and democratic elections, on how best to do this.

However, the problem has become deeper than that. In recent years, the federal government doesn’t even seem to want to protect us from things we ought to be expecting it to protect us from. When Islamic jihadists escalate their war against Americans and Western civilization in general, our President says, “It’s not about Islam, and it’s not about religion.”

Stunned silence.

And now that Ebola potentially threatens the basic health and lives of millions of innocent citizens, we’re told that the rights and needs of people outside of our country — including the people bringing the illness into the country — are not just equally important, but more important, than the rights and lives of everyone else.

Again: stunned silence.

This is beyond insane. It’s so stupendously wrong, irrational and self-destructive, that I don’t think that most Americans will permit themselves to comprehend the kind of mentality we have in our government, especially right now.

But they certainly seem to feel it, if these polls are any guide.


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