By Lee A. Daniels
In a country of 310 million people in which international and domestic airlines move millions of Americans and foreign nationals from one place to another every day, two people thus far have tested positive for the Ebola virus. Both of those people are nurses, members of the staff at the one hospital in Texas who treated the Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan, whose Ebola infection manifested itself after he had arrived in Dallas.
Those two facts are part of the continuing questions about Dallas’ Health Presbyterian Hospital’s procedures in this case: Why, for example, it did not admit Duncan the first time his relatives brought him to its emergency room? What procedures did it follow in treating him? How was it that two members of that team that treated him came to be infected?
This isn’t to deny the necessity of probing just how clear the federal Center for Disease Control’s communications to state and local officials in Texas and elsewhere were about dealing with the virus. Rather, it is to say that determining just what happened at that hospital is crucial precisely because the only other cases of Ebola in the U.S. were the American aid workers who were cured after being flown from West Africa to the special hospital treatment centers in Nebraska and Atlanta. And no hospital staff at those hospitals were infected.
But that line of inquiry – which focuses not only on Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital but also the readiness of Texas local and state officials to deal with such a crisis – has been virtually ignored in the conservative echo chambers’ ‘Chicken Little’ cries of calamity. Instead, to read and hear much of the commentary and charges from conservative pundits, talk-show jockeys and Republican members of Congress, one would think Ebola is on the verge of spreading like wildfire.
The real purpose of those cries of impending doom isn’t the legitimate one, as I’ve written in two recent columns, of tightening America’s defenses against this awful disease at the local, state and federal level. One can see that real work being done every day now in the President Obama’s appointment of a “czar” to directly oversee all federal Ebola-related activities and in the new comprehensive procedures that are being announced daily by local, state and federal officials. No, the strategy of the Chicken Little crowd is to use Ebola fear-mongering as an excuse to further spew its – truly deranged for some; for others, calculated – hatred of President Obama to advance the GOP’s prospects for next month’s midterm elections.
One can’t deny the hypocrisy at work here. Not when Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who’s made a career out of claiming Texas could do better than “Washington” on everything from education reform to solving the immigration crisis, has been virtually invisible since Americans learned of Thomas Eric Duncan’s illness. He kept to a previously scheduled trip to Europe this month, intended to establish some foreign-policy credentials for his run for the GOP presidential nod in 2016 until pointed questions forced his return.
In his absence, while GOP elected officials have been “speaking in code,” charging that Obama has failed to “secure” the country’s borders, ban all travelers from the affected West African nations, and adequately prepare for the Ebola virus, their shock troops among conservative pundits and commentators have been more direct in articulating the constant theme of the GOP’s anti-Obama line.
Fox News’ Keith Ablow last week managed to include almost all of the essential elements of the over-arching Obama derangement syndrome in a rant against the president: that because his father was Kenyan, he hates America (this conspiracy nugget requires, of course, ignoring that he was raised by his White American mother and her Kansas parents largely in multiracial Hawaii), and thus, as Ablow, concluded, Obama’s “affinities, his affiliations are with them. Not us. That’s what people seem unwilling to accept. He’s their leader …. We don’t have a president.”
But another Fox News’ commentator provided a most effective response to all the efforts to sow panic about Ebola in the U.S.
Shepard Smith told his Oct. 15 audience: “You should have no concerns about Ebola at all. None. … Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio and the television or read the fear-provoking words online. The people who say and write hysterical things are being very irresponsible. … Someday there may be a real panic. Someday, something may start spreading that they can’t control. And then, do you know what we’re going to have to do? We’re going to have to relax and listen to leaders. We’re not going to panic when we’re supposed to and we’re certainly not going to panic now.”
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America