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FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, OCT. 31, 2014
BLOWHARDS, BULLIES AND EBOLA
BY BOB FRANKEN
By now, this is hardly profound, but let’s state it anyway: The Ebola disease has exposed pervasive sickness in our society as well, certainly in our political system. On the latter point, some of our confused leaders have pandered to panic, in many cases making decisions that show more regard for the polls than common sense. We have hasty calls to block all travelers from West Africa, coming largely from right-wing hard-liners looking for any way to embarrass President Barack Obama -- who, in his maddeningly deliberate way, was correctly deciding that such a sledgehammer move would shatter all chances of confronting what could only be described as an epidemic of hysteria in the U.S.
When finally the proposed travel ban was discredited as the demagoguery it is, we witnessed a new cheap stunt from a couple of our governors: New York’s Democrat Andy Cuomo and his Republican neighbor from New Jersey, Chris Christie. At least we had a teeny bit of bipartisanship. Looking as stern as they could, they jointly decreed that medical workers arriving in their states’ international airports from the African hot zone would immediately be taken into quarantine.
It was a pleasure to watch how quickly bullies wilt when someone stands up to them. In this case, it was nurse Kaci Hickox, returning from a heroic stint treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, who landed and was accosted by authorities who handled her in that inimitable New Jersey charming way, brusquely placing her into an unheated isolation tent.
What the two governors didn’t expect was that she would fight back. She used the one weapon any carelessly ambitious politician fears the most: bad publicity. She called a buddy at the Dallas Morning News and dictated a scathing complaint about her treatment, and when other news organizations picked it up, Messrs. Cuomo and Christie performed backward tap dances that would have made Mitt Romney proud.
Ms. Hickox is long gone from Newark, leaving two embarrassed politicians in her wake -- one, Cuomo, running for re-election; the other, Christie, planning a presidential run if he can just get past the recurring impression that he’s a nasty man who is a stranger to finesse.
Now that she’s done her number on those two, Hickox is taking on the governor back home in Maine, Paul LePage. LePage, who also is fighting for re-election, is demanding that she stick with quarantine. She’s telling him to stick it.
She has no symptoms, and let’s remember, Ebola is a minuscule threat here. What is a huge threat is the lack of trust that most of us feel these days toward all our institutions. It’s certainly not misplaced, but it is terribly corrosive, leaving us fair game to the exploitive cheap-shot artists in politics and, might I say, news organizations.
Whenever any crisis or controversy hits, we toss context and common sense out the window. Facts are not checked, extremist nonsense is not filtered, and instead of informing, we misinform. And I’m talking about the so-called mainstream media. Add to that all the ignorance that inflames the Internet and we end up at the mercy of opportunistic blowhard know-nothings.
Anyone who takes a deliberate approach is consumed by the flames of irrationality, leaving a barren landscape for reason and fertile ground for connivers. To be honest, it works. Cheap shots usually pay off, certainly for those who slither in and around politics.
Of course, the country is going to hell in a handbasket. Nobody knows who to believe anymore. Actually, I take that back; almost everybody has decided to believe in nobody. And why should they draw any other conclusion? Here’s why: If we don’t get a grip, if our leaders don’t live up to the trust we’ve given them, we’re over. Our sickness will get worse.
© Bob Franken
King features Syndicate, inc.