I have lived long enough, now, to have seen it again and again. Something goes badly wrong involving a corporation, a university, a religious denomination, or a branch of government, and the executive in charge or a designated minion goes before the press to engage in what is euphemistically called “damage control.” The spokesman does not level with the public. He or she tries to be reassuring and — more often than not — by lying, succeeds in undermining confidence in the institution he or she represents.
This is what is now going on with the Centers for Disease Control. In recent years, this well-respected outfit has branched out, opining in a politically correct manner on one issue after another outside its proper remit. Now it is faced with a matter absolutely central to its responsibilities — actual disease control — and it flips and flops and flounders because the ultimate boss, the President of the United States, cannot bring himself to put limits on contacts between Americans and the citizens of the countries in Africa where there is an Ebola epidemic.
There is only one way to prevent the spread of an epidemic, and that is quarantine. No medical professional with any sense would suggest that we should admit individuals from Liberia to the United States at this time, and no medical professional worth his or her salt would say that we can test for the disease when the prospective visitor arrives at Immigration and Passport Control. Like most diseases, Ebola has an incubation period. Early on, there are no symptoms: none at all. There is no reliable way to tell whether those arriving at our ports of entry have contracted the disease or not. If we do not want it coming here, for a time, we have to keep everyone out who has been in that neck of the woods.
And what are we told by the authorities? That cutting off contact would contribute to the spread of the epidemic. “Just how?” we are entitled to ask. But no explanation is given because, of course, there is none. We were also told that the disease would not come here. And, when it did come here, we were told that it could easily be contained. And, when it was not contained and a medical professional wearing all the proper gear came down with the disease, we were told that he did not follow the protocol.
Perhaps, the medical professional in question really did fail to follow the protocol, though, he apparently has no notion how he fell short. Perhaps, that is it; then again, perhaps not. Honesty would require that the director of the CDC tell the truth — which is, that he does not know how this particular individual contracted Ebola.
But this he cannot say. For that would cause us to worry, and his responsibility, as he and those above him conceive it, is to cover for the President of the United States. In fact, he works for thee and me. Our taxes make it possible for him to draw a paycheck. But this, in company with nearly everyone in the Obama administration, he has somehow forgotten; and so, in a servile fashion, he goes out in public to defend with forked tongue a policy he and every medical professional in the country knows is madness.
The truth is simple. There is an epidemic in Africa. The disease that is spreading like wildfire is horrible beyond imagination. We have suspicions as to how it spreads, but we do not know for sure. The only certain way to avoid its propagation is to avoid contact, and the President of the United States, who operates in an intellectual bubble, is unwilling to do what it is necessary to do to prevent people in the country he is sworn to serve and defend from coming into contact with contagious individuals who have the disease.
It is the duty of public servants, such as the Director of the CDC, to speak the truth in public. We are, after all, a self-governing people, and we ought not to be treated as little children who need to be reassured even when the news is anything but reassuring. But speaking the truth in all frankness and admitting ignorance seems beyond this man. Were he to do so, were he in public to say what every competent medical professional understands — that to prevent this plague from coming to North America we need to refuse for a time to accept visitors from much of Africa — he would no doubt be cashiered by the man whom, at the ballot box, we put in charge. And being cashiered he fears far more than deserving to be cashiered.
There was a time — I remember that time — when public officials and even political appointees resigned when called upon to carry out a policy they sincerely thought to be contrary to the interests of the American people. There was a time when public servants had a powerful sense of their own dignity and conducted themselves in a manner suited to free human beings. But that time appears to have passed — and those who hold high office act today as if they were the President’s slaves.
What a country we have become! We have journalists who prostitute themselves for a political party. We have civil servants who will gaily break the law for partisan purposes. We have cabinet members who do not believe in the policies they are called upon to implement, but who do not resign. We have an Attorney General who thinks that the obstruction of justice is his job. And we have a Congress unwilling to call anyone to account.
I fear for my country.
Image Credit: “CDC Headquarters PHIL 10693” by James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – http://www.cdc.gov/media/subtopic/library/building.htm. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.