What Americans Still Haven’t Learned from the Ebola Crisis

In just 18 months, with the deadly Ebola crisis raging in West Africa and inching its way into the United States, the reputation of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has plunged. A CBS News poll found that public confidence in the CDC’s ability to handle the crisis has dropped to 37 percent from a high of 60 percent in a Gallup poll in May of last year. Today, fully 60 percent of those surveyed say the CDC is doing a “fair/poor” job of protecting the public, ranking the agency behind the military, the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Secret Service in terms of public confidence.

Why is the CDC doing such a bad job? Does it have anything to do with the nature of government itself? Or is it a freak, accidental occurrence?

We had this with Hurricane Katrina. People took it for granted that the federal government was capable of quickly cleaning up, and making everything all right, after the biggest natural disaster in American history. President George W. Bush was roundly condemned — at times, even by himself — for not making this happen.

Now the same thing is happening with Ebola, although it has not (at least yet) turned into an actual catastrophe. If it does, the Republicans can be expected to blame it on President Obama. The implication is, “If he had appointed the right people, then this wouldn’t have happened.” In other words, Republicans concede the point that government can and should be able to handle such things, even though its motivations are almost always political, and not rational. Democrats, of course, will blame it on the “Tea Party” which is simply code for: Not enough money. No matter how badly government bungles things, Democrats will always say, “If we only had more money, it would have been fine.” It’s an ironic attitude for a political movement constantly claiming that money and economic “greediness” are the root of all evil.

FoxNews.com reports that senior Republicans on Capitol Hill are criticizing Ron Klain, President Obama’s choice to be “Ebola czar,” as a figurehead with no health background.“Given the mounting failings in the Obama administration’s response to the Ebola outbreak, it is right that the president has sought to task a single individual to coordinate its response, “said Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “But I have to ask why the president didn’t pick an individual with a noteworthy infectious disease or public health background?”

Here it is: The premise is that government can and should be responsible for preventing and curing illness — more than science or the private sector — and if only we had the “right” (i.e., Republican) people, then all would presumably be well. The story reports that Klain, a longtime political hand, served as chief of staff to Al Gore and Vice President Joe Biden but has no apparent medical or health care background. A White House official said Friday that Klain comes to the job with “strong management credentials, extensive federal government experience overseeing complex operations and good working relationships with leading members of Congress, as well as senior Obama administration officials, including the president.” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called him an “excellent choice.”

Doesn’t this revelation prove the point that government cannot be counted on to resolve such problems? Klain was appointed not because he really possessed the ability to “prevent and cure disease,” as an Ebola “czar” presumably would do. He was appointed because he was politically connected.

But why else are politically appointed people appointed? Why are we shocked when people appointed to important positions for political reasons are … well, political?

Let’s look deeper here. What does it mean to appoint a “czar” to make sure a disease does not break out or spread? I don’t feel safe with a politically appointed “czar” in charge of such a thing. In fact, I know it’s nothing more than a clunky, naive illusion. Does anyone really think that any politician we elect — from either party — knows of a czar who can prevent or quickly fix an outbreak like Ebola?

What we need to prevent or address Ebola — or any other health crisis — are two things: private research, and private medicine. Pharmaceutical companies who produce vaccines can be counted on to deliver the goods far better than any hack who knew Al Gore and Joe Biden who used his political connections to get himself elevated to being a “czar.”

Throughout this crisis so far, private companies and private entities have demonstrated rational behavior in attempting to prevent the spread of this disease. This has all been done no thanks to — and even in direct contradiction, at times, to the orders of — the CDC. It’s no wonder a majority of Americans have so little faith in the CDC. But do they grasp that faith — not reason, science or proof — is the only thing such federal agencies have going for them?

What is this fascination with “czars” by the way? Doesn’t anyone know that a Czar refers to the hapless Russian kings who ran that country so poorly that Marxist Communism actually seemed to make sense to those poor people at the turn of the 20th Century? How did the land of Thomas Jefferson, the U.S. Constitution and James Madison become a system where people now aspire to be “czars”?

TheStar.com (Toronto Star) reports that a Canadian-made HIV vaccine has cleared a major hurdle. Scientists announced last Tuesday that initial results from human clinical trials show no adverse effects and significantly boosted immunity. Developed by researchers at Western University in London, Ont., it’s the first and only preventative HIV vaccine based on a genetically modified killed whole-virus. It has shown promising results after Phase 1 trials. “These are very exciting results,” said Dr. Chil-Yong Kang, professor of virology at the university’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry. “It is, really, a major milestone.”

We look to government agencies to do what only researchers and a private marketplace can produce (through mass production of vaccines, for example). Sometimes government dollars are involved, but they’re never of any use unless the government stays the hell out of the way and lets science do its thing. Yet as we can see, government dollars are more concerned with providing a high-visible D.C. job to someone who’s connected personally to Joe Biden or Al Gore than actually doing anything of relevance to science or mass production.

The lesson that I fear these Americans will not draw from the Obama Ebola debacle is that government is the problem. It’s not just a particular political party that’s the problem. It’s the false belief that this same majority still possesses that government can and should — somehow, “I don’t know how, but somehow” — be able to do things that can actually only be resolved in the private sector of research and medicine, where motives, moral hazards and outcomes are far more likely to be rational.

Sure, a case can probably be made that a President Obama — particularly with his one-world socialist agenda to put poor African countries even ahead of America — is worse than a President Romney or McCain might have been. But in the end, there would have been little difference. So long as we keep putting politicians in charge of major problems and then acting shocked and surprised when they display nothing but political motives, we’re illustrating the age old definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results.

People have free will. There’s no guarantee that a majority of Americans — disgusted by yet another government response to yet another national crisis — will not learn the lesson I’m saying here. But it’s also true that people’s past behaviors and conclusions are a good indication of future ones. On that premise, I don’t think most Americans will learn from this experience any more than they did from Katrina, or any of the others. Regardless of how bad Ebola does or does not get, people on both sides will continue to scream: If only we had the right people, or the right amount of money, government could have done absolutely anything it wished.

In the meantime, we can only hope that our real heroes and protectors — reason, science, and for-profit enterprise — will, yet again, get the job done for us.

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