"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”-Rahm Emanuel, 2008
The political world is always looking for an issue that makes their side look good and the other side look bad. Typical followers, America’s political class are trailing after the news industry, which has clearly found Ebola to be a sound business opportunity given it is providing America with a continual stream of news stories featuring enough regurgitated background information and nonessential updates to drive the American People into a full-blown panic over Ebola.
Despite recent Gallup Poll data showing Americans are far most concerned with the economy, government performance, and jobs than Ebola, among the many other major crises unfolding around the world, the 2014 Midterm Elections have not been defined by these issues. Part of the reason stems from the sheer volume of crises happening around the world. Another reason is the Midterms are not a “national election,” which means local concerns will largely drive voter turnout and choice instead of polarization national figures and policies.
With that in mind, it may not be possible to trust much of any macroscopic political analysis that examines whether Democrats or Republicans as parties can better address these concerns of Americans in general, but professional news outlets would normally be expected to provide nonstop cover of how candidates are planning to address these top concerns.
Unfortunately, making 2014 about the economy, government dysfunction, and jobs does not make political sense. After all, no easy solution can solve these problems while there are too many skeletons in the closets of Democrats and Republicans to have a meaningful, national conversation on these issues.
Ebola, on the other hand, is both interesting and frightening. As the solution to dealing with Ebola is already known and fairly easy to comprehend, i.e. isolate, treat, and disinfect, the reality that Ebola is in the news has opened the flood gates for political leaders who react to public fears and outrage instead of leading during times of crisis. In a classic “getting tough on…(insert issue),” Ebola is the perfect issue for local and state politicians to focus on when trolling for voter support.
Recently instituted strict quarantine rules by the governors of New York and New Jersey for all medical personnel who volunteered to treat victims in Ebola stricken countries has certainly enflamed the political world. “Commonsense” would lead the average person to view a quarantine of 21 days, which is the longest incubation period of Ebola, for anyone who likely made contact with an Ebola patient would be the most reasonable course of action. Such quarantines, however, run thoroughly contrary to the opinions of experts, which view such policies as more of a hindrance in their efforts to combat the spread of the disease.
Although it is always important for policymakers to thoroughly understand advice offered by experts and question what assumptions are being make to compensate for unknowns, the reality that the CDC was in the midst of a controversy surrounding its mishandling of live smallpox virus just as the 2014 Ebola outbreak began, added scrutiny is justified. On the other hand, the current highly polarized and dysfunctional nature of the American political system also makes it necessary for the American People to scrutinize whether the quarantine was a sound policy or a political move.
It is important to recognize the arbitrary detainment of an American citizen, whether in a jail cell or in a tent in a hospital parking lot, is unconstitutional. Only when there is a compelling state interest can the governments enforce something like a mandatory quarantine. For most people, the seriousness of Ebola, even if it is not the most infectious disease in the world, is enough, but the legal standard is necessarily far higher.
Frankly, American lawmakers can write and pass any laws they want. They may face voter backlash and the eventual review of the Supreme Court, but they do not need to follow the guidance of experts. Expert opinion does, however, provide the strongest support when arguing a policy serves a compelling state interest.
For Ebola, the consensus of the experts does not support a full-blown quarantine. In fact, the infectious disease segment of the medical community views it to be counterproductive, thus the impulse of political leaders to crackdown on Ebola at this time is likely not Constitutional.
Regrettably, today’s politics is driven by emotion while voters like to see their leaders taking action, even if they are just running around like a chicken with its head cutoff. Consequently, political leaders seeking to calm frightened and anxious constituents, instead of those reacting to polls, are more likely to see backlash at the ballot box, yet it is these political leaders, these statesmen, who the United States needs in an era of never ending crises.
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