October 24, 2014

Where's the Government When We Need It?

Where's the Government When We Need It?

Going back and re-reading my column from last week, I came to realize that the Ebola scare we are facing down in the U.S. was never truly likely to become an Ebola epidemic. What I was focused on was the government ineptitude that allowed the three new documented U.S. cases to develop in the first place, and the string of unforgiveable missteps in properly containing the situation from the outset.

My thoughts about the mishandling of those cases were clarified when I read Frank Bruni’s op ed column in the New York Times last Sunday. Bruni hit the nail on the head when he wrote that Ebola “…is ravaging Americans’ already tenuous faith in the competence of our government and its bureaucracies.”

He went on to say, “Before President Obama’s election, we had Iraq, Katrina and the meltdown of banks supposedly under Washington’s watch. Since he came along to tidy things up, we’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.” He does have a way with words, and I bet I’m not the only one who agrees with him.

My original thoughts weren’t so much about the likelihood of a U.S. epidemic (several readers rightly pointed out that I am no epidemiologist); they were about the appalling mishandling of the health scare itself. Americans used to have faith and confidence in the government to safeguard our well-being. Federal, state or local, we trusted that the government was there to serve and protect, and we were happy (well, maybe not so happy) to pay our fair share in taxes to insure that government would take decisive, preemptive action when we needed it – in times of war, natural disaster or health emergency.

What seems to have started happening over time is that when governmental intervention is most needed, our officials can’t get it right, at least not on the first try. The new norm seems to be, we’ll get it right eventually.

With the amount of money we pay for government, with the enormous resources at their disposal, our officials should be getting it right from the get-go. At the very least, they should not be getting it wrong. Yet, whether it’s the CDC, the Secret Service, or FEMA, the litany of screw ups just keeps growing. We deserve better.

Senegal and Nigeria both managed to contain the Ebola epidemic in their countries. Hopefully, with some common sense leadership from our new “Ebola czar,” Ron Klain, the Ebola scare in the U.S. will abate as well.