Frank Bruni wrote an Op-ed in the New York Times on October 14 entitled “Scarier Than Ebola” in which he argued that we should be more worried about things such as the flu, car crashes and skin cancer than Ebola. His argument immediately began to fall apart when I applied the lessons in logic I learned watching Sesame Street. Here are the lyrics to the song they sang as the show displayed a quadrant with three things that were related and one that wasn’t:
“One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?”
Using my Sesame Street training, it was easy to spot that Ebola is different in very important ways from the problems Bruni thinks we should be more scared about. We can all protect ourselves from the flu, car crashes and skin cancer. Vaccines, seatbelts and sunscreen won’t help us against Ebola. In fact, the only thing that can help minimize our risks of contracting Ebola is a well-functioning government.
Bruni berates people who don’t get the flu vaccine, fail to wear seat belts or don’t cover up when in the sun and suggests we should be more concerned about these folks than Ebola. But those who neglect to protect themselves against the flu, car accidents or melanoma generally only put themselves at risk. It’s called personal responsibility. The problem with Ebola is that there is no known vaccine, so there’s no point in complaining about people whom we deem to be less sensible than us.
Of course, Bruni is right to suggest that the chances that the average American will contract Ebola are still extremely remote. However, that’s not what I’m most concerned about and nor do I think most other Americans are either. Why I think Americans are so focused on Ebola is because for the last several weeks they’ve witnessed their government doing an extremely poor job executing its core function – protecting its people.
The president told us it’s unlikely anyone with Ebola will reach our shores. We were then informed by the CDC director, Tom Frieden, that any hospital in America can handle a case of the disease and that we have the right protocols in place. After both of these statements proved false, one person had died and one nurse had contracted Ebola, another nurse with an elevated temperature contacted the CDC and was told it was OK for her to board a plane. The CDC director then contradicted his own agency and said that her travel should not have been approved. Now we’re told new protocols for handling patients are being rolled out.
An OpEd published on October 19, “The Virus of Cynicism”, also in the New York Times, agrees that this bungling should have Americans concerned:
“[O]ne dimension of the disease’s toll is clear. It’s ravaging Americans’ already tenuous faith in the competence of our government and its bureaucracies. . . . [W]e’ve had the staggeringly messy rollout of Obamacare, the damnable negligence of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the baffling somnambulism of the Secret Service. . . .
Ebola is [Obama’s] presidency in a petri dish. It’s an example already of his tendency to talk too loosely at the outset of things, so that his words come back to haunt him. There was the doctor you could keep under his health plan until, well, you couldn’t. There was the red line for Syria that he didn’t have to draw and later erased. . . .
Right now in this country there’s a crisis of confidence, and of competence, and that’s the fertile ground in which the Ebola terror flowers. That’s the backdrop for whatever steps Obama and Frieden take from here. With the right ones, they can go a long way toward calming people who are anxious not just about Ebola but about America. I don’t even want to think about the wrong ones.”
The author? Frank Bruni.