For months, as the Ebola virus spread precipitously throughout Africa, American citizens have engaged in the usual rampant speculation that accompanies modern pandemics. Questions were asked about how the disease is spread, how it can be contained and, most importantly, whether nor not the United States was in any danger of it spreading to these shores.
At every step, the official response from medical professionals was dismissive, to the point of smugness. No, they said: Ebola will not come to America. And then they said the odds were simply way too low for anyone to consider. We were told all this assiduously, by men and women whose primacy as experts rendered them incapable of being credibly second-guessed. Whether it was the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, or our own Department of Health and Human Services, the pushback against public concern was delivered with the same self-satisfied certainty once used to anoint Wall Street CEOs as “masters of the universe”—and we know how well that worked out.
But now, with the first diagnosis of Ebola on these shores, with everyone that person contacted now in quarantine, and with an NBC crew on its way back in quarantine after their own cameraman tested positive for Ebola, one thing that should be obvious is that the experts were wrong—dead wrong, about almost everything—and that their failure means innocent people are going to die.
A man with Ebola lied his way onto a plane that carried him—and the virus—from Liberia to Dallas, where he then contacted multiple people before showing symptoms himself. Multiple airline officials failed to stop him from getting into the US, even after being warned of what to look for and how to proceed. At that point, doctors in Dallas failed to diagnose him, and the CDC only got involved because people close to the patient made the call, not hospital staff. Even now, with the man’s condition a national story, his family sits in quarantine, along with their neighbors in their apartment building. The man’s contagious vomit was pressure-washed by cleaning crews without proper safety equipment, and his soiled linens remained sitting at home in a plastic bag as this is being written. As with the airlines, established safety protocols were not followed, to devastating effect.
Right now is probably not the time to be thinking in terms of accountability. These failed experts are still the best at what they do, and the priority must remain on containing the disease and doing everything possible to help those already affected. However, when this current outbreak is over, a lot of people are going to lose their jobs, and one of them might be the President of the United States himself. Right-wing conservatives whispering about impeaching Obama have been handed an early Christmas present: Every Ebola diagnosis within US borders makes it easier to advance the case for impeaching a president whose own personal failings made a bad situation much, much worse.
Obama’s sorry handling of the Ebola debacle has been somewhat consistent with his handling of pretty much everything this year, and it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to wonder if maybe there’s something seriously wrong with him. After all, this is the same president who referred to ISIS as “the JV squad” while they were building critical mass in Iraq and gaining a foothold in Syria, and then admitted on-camera that “We don’t have a strategy yet” to deal with them. This is the same president whose underlings allegedly threatened the family of James Foley for being open to paying ransom for him—and then, after he was murdered on video, Obama offered half-hearted condolences with no tie on, minutes before running off to play golf. This is the same president whose Secret Service has been compromised more times than his own principles, with no real consequences.
This is the same president who recently saluted a Marine guarding his helicopter while holding coffee in his right hand, and whose advocates complained about the resulting controversy, which only occurred because the White House released the video themselves. It’s not about the salute; it’s about how one of the most successful politicians of the post-war era has suddenly forgotten how politics works. It’s hard to say what would be worse: that he didn’t know how that would look, and how people would react, or that he didn’t care. Further, not one member of his staff intervened to block the release of the video, and none of them seemed to care at all about its practical effect on the election. He was elected because he wasn’t George W. Bush, and now, five years later, that’s all he’s got.
At the very least, it comes at the worst possible time for congressional Democrats, who already face serious losses in a tight, contentious mid-term election season that culminates just a month from now. Part of any president’s job is to be the leader of their party, and in that regard Obama may go down as one of the absolute worst presidents of the past century, in terms of the brutally negative effect his presence has had on the fortunes of his party, which controlled both houses of congress at the time he took office in 2009. Since then, Obama’s greatest political legacy has been to empower the most reactionary elements of his opposition, which has cakewalked into dozens, if not hundreds of elected offices on local, state and national levels from coast to coast, driven largely by reflexive hatred and fear of a president who, amidst all this, has never offered any real resistance.
If Republicans are able to maintain their control of the US House, and somehow manage to take control of the Senate, there will be nothing to stop them from at least trying to impeach Obama. Nothing, that is, except their own fear, which is legitimate. It’s quite possible that voters will be thrown off by the ugliness of it all, and might retaliate by voting out the principal aggressors and rallying behind the Democratic nominee (presumably Hillary Clinton) in 2016. Of course, the last president impeached was Bill Clinton, whose successor was a Bush. That could easily happen again—assuming that there’s anyone left to actually vote in 2016. As always, time will tell.
October 2, 2014