First, let’s be clear. On the evidence, there is no real crisis; only one that has been manufactured by some elected representatives, both D and R, in and out of Congress, and by the news media who have taken the line of least resistance and stoked fear with a combination of incomplete reporting (1) and by giving countenance to the uninformed ramblings of people who would prefer to score political points rather than help calm the public.
The reality is that we have had one death due to ebola; a man who brought the disease to the US by lying his way into the country (2). Two subsequent cases developed in care-givers who attended to this same patient, working in a hospital that was not fully prepared to provide the extraordinary protection that should be mandated for those in close contact with an infected individual; especially his bodily fluids. A fourth individual – the nurse Kaci Hickok – is not a case at all; she is symptom-free and has tested negative for ebola. Again, there is no real crisis!!!
In the face of this reality, how are we to see true leadership?: It requires an honest recognition of the public’s fear (i.e. “I get it; you’re scared”). But that negative emotion must be offset by a calm, clear reciting of all available evidence, an objective assessment of risk (3), and a detailed outlining of the steps taken to deal with the cases at hand, as well as those for combating the disease at its source(s). All of this is guided by the wisdom and experience of the best minds available. Finally, once you are confident that the facts are indisputably on your side, you do not vacillate or allow runaway public emotion and opponents’ criticisms (4) to steer you off the course you have plotted.
The one elected official who fits this pattern, if somewhat imperfectly, is our president. Those who have failed miserably at meeting the same challenge are governors Chris Christie (R-NJ), Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and Paul LePage (R-Ma). In a position to shape and enact policy, these three have caved to public fear and undertaken steps that are both counter-productive and contraindicated. And, in at least one instance, Christie and Cuomo even reversed themselves.
So, we have a real leader and a collection of faux ones. It would be encouraging if some signs materialized to show that the general public sees and appreciates the difference.
1. Refer back to a recent blog “Scientists – No; Doctors – Oh Yeah”.
2. The news media have been incredibly slack in reporting that the one fatality lied his way into the country. Had he not done that, we would likely have experienced no cases here, at all.
3. The president asserted that it is “unlikely” (his word) that we would see ebola in the US. That one word has been cast by the media as a statement of certainty when in fact, it is a statement of probability. There’s a very big difference.
4. Obama’s critics are behaving based on self-serving political calculations. See footnote #1 and the referenced blog.