Ebola is a terrible disease that has ravaged West Africa and taken a life in America. It seems evident that some breach of protocol allowed a Texas nurse to travel from Dallas to Cleveland and back after she had helped treat an Ebola patient but before she started showing symptoms herself. Mistakes have been certainly made, as they say.
But Ebola is also virtually no threat to the general U.S. population. The flu has and will kill many more people. Ebola has taken one life in the United States and the number of infected Americans is literally in the single digits. And as Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital, which has housed two Ebola patients who recovered and didn’t infect anyone else, has shown, the American health care system can contain the disease.
It isn’t a surprise to see conservative media beating the drum of conspiracy and incompetence. But now, with all perspective and nuance being tossed aside, the more mainstream media is starting to pick it up, too.
For example, The Hill wrote on Thursday: “The Ebola crisis in the United States has become an anchor threatening to sink the Obama presidency.”
“Shortcomings” in the Ebola response, which the Obama administration has acknowledged, are some kind of culmination in a long history of incompetence and deteriorating public trust in the White House, according to the newspaper.
Obama hasn’t had a major error like Katrina or the War in Iraq. But the cumulative effect of careening through an unrelenting two years of crises, from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the Secret Service, has had a similar effect on perceptions of the president.
History suggests that the president’s measured response to crises has not paid dividends. While White House officials chortle at “phony scandals” like the IRS targeting of political groups or the terror attacks in Benghazi, polls show that trust in the government and the president’s handling of foreign policy have been steadily eroding.
The New York Times’s Michael Barbaro theorized Ebola — which, again, has killed a single person in the United States — could define the Obama presidency more than the Affordable Care Act, which has extended health coverage to more than 10 million people and is generally considered the most significant domestic legislative program in a generation, no matter whether you think that is a good or a bad thing.
Stating obvious, but if Obama doesn’t get Ebola response right, it will define his presidency in a way that dwarfs ACA et al.
— Michael Barbaro (@mikiebarb) October 15, 2014
This is the level of hyperbole at the moment.
“President Obama’s handling of this public-health crisis could impact the midterms and become central to how he is looked at by historians,” Eleanor Clift wrote at the Daily Beast. And the experts backed her up: “One thing we can say presidents tend to be held responsible for responses to emergencies,” Bill Galston, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, told Clift.
Americans are worried about Ebola — 40 percent said in a Harvard University poll this week that they feel at risk — and it is a frightening malady with horrific symptoms and an almost-unfathomable mortality rate. But — as has now been repeated ad nauseam by authorities and some more responsible journalists — it is very difficult to spread. The entirety of the U.S. public health apparatus is now being concentrated on keeping it to a quite literal handful of cases.
Other legacy-defining crises — Obama’s Katrinas, if you will, and that’s been used now with Ebola, too — have come and gone. The media has hyped those as well. Now, Americans need level-headed information so that they know that their lives aren’t imminently at risk because of Ebola. But you can’t expect them to understand that if this is how the situation is being presented to them.