Beneath the calming reassurance that President Obama has repeatedly offered during the Ebola crisis, there is a deepening frustration, even anger, with how the government has handled key elements of the response.
Those frustrations spilled over when Mr. Obama convened his top aides in the Cabinet room after canceling his schedule on Wednesday. Medical officials were providing information that later turned out to be wrong. Guidance to local health teams was not adequate. It was unclear which Ebola patients belonged in which threat categories.
“It’s not tight,” a visibly angry Mr. Obama said of the response, according to people briefed on the meeting. He told aides they needed to get ahead of events and demanded a more hands-on approach, particularly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “He was not satisfied with the response,” a senior official said…
“It’s not that people aren’t doing anything,” a senior official said. “It’s that they’re not yet doing enough.”
President Barack Obama held a meeting Friday afternoon with his national security and public health teams aimed at coordinating the federal government’s response to Ebola — and someone was noticeably absent.
According to the list of participants released by the White House, the president’s new “Ebola Czar” Ron Klain was not in attendance…
Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Klain was specifically tasked with coordinating “this broad inter-agency response.”
Yet, while representatives from most agencies were present in the meeting, Klain was not.
The stimulus, apparently, is Exhibit A, and perhaps also Exhibit B and Exhibit C, for Klain’s ability to run an interagency process and therefore his readiness to serve as Ebola czar.
But citing Klain’s stimulus work didn’t resolve all questions. “What does Ron Klain know about Ebola?” CNN’s Jim Acosta asked White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Friday. Earnest ignored the question — the answer, apparently, is nothing more than anyone else who’s following news coverage — but added, “What we were looking for was not an Ebola expert, but rather an implementation expert, and that’s what Ron Klain is.”
“His area of expertise is in implementation, and that is exactly what is needed,” Earnest continued. “We are confident he has all the credentials that we could want.”…
“I don’t know that I’d point to the stimulus as an example of government problem solving,” says a well-connected GOP Hill aide. “Giving away free money is not the same as running a massive public health bureaucracy.”
“Mr. Klain will ultimately however report to Ms. Monoco [Homeland Security] and to National Security Advisor Susan Rice in this effort,” Earnest said.
As a reminder, Susan Rice is the woman who went on five Sunday talk shows to lie about a YouTube video being responsible for the 9/11 attack in Benghazi. She is also the same person who said alleged Army deserter and Taliban sympathizer Bowe Bergdahl served with honor and distinction.
“We have heard consistently across the country that there are no protocols in place,” Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro told reporters Wednesday. DeMoro also said that the situation could escalate to possible strikes if nurses don’t receive better training and supplies soon.
Nurses from other unions have echoed those complaints. Mari Cordes, a nurse in Burlington, Vermont, and president of the Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals, said that her hospital, Fletcher Allen Health Care, has not conducted any trainings or advisories about Ebola.
“We have been told by Fletcher Allen that ‘they’ are planning, but … hospital management has yet to meet with staff, and says that the earliest they could meet with us is October 31st,” she said in an email. “The Ebola outbreak has been occurring for months.”
Lynda Pond, a labor and delivery nurse in Springfield, Oregon and a member of the Oregon Nurses Association, said she doesn’t feel adequately educated about Ebola and claimed that the primary communication she’s received from her hospital about the issue was through a “blast email” on October 6. She asked that the name of her employer not be used.
I have lost track of the number of times we have read that Obama is shocked to learn that big bureaucracies can be clumsy and plagued by poor communication, but I welcome some reminders in the comments; offhand, the Secret Service, the HealthCare.fail rollout and the VA spring to mind, but I also recall he learned about the IRS and Fast and Furious by careful reading of his daily newspapers.
My advice to Team Obama – encourage the Big Guy to take a look around. If he sees a playing field and thousands of screaming fans then he is probably in a luxury skybox somewhere and yes, he is free to cheer and boo like any other spectator. But if he sees a famous desk and slightly curved walls, then he is probably in the Oval Office and might want to remember that he is Chief Executive of the United States and is notionally responsible for the many bureaucracies he purportedly leads.
And I am begging these inside sources offering these seemingly friendly (and seemingly endless) attempts to separate Obama from the debacle du jour – after six years even Obama, a True Believer in Big Government with no actual executive experience, must have noticed that bureaucracies take a bit of coaxing and management. Enough already with the whinging and hand-wringing.
But it is also true that the C.D.C. was too hubristic in its approach to Ebola, and the consequence is that its staff now looks like bumblers. “They never challenged their own assumptions,” says Dr. Richard Wenzel, an infectious disease specialist at Virginia Commonwealth University. “This is an unforgiving virus,” he added, “about which there is a lot we don’t know.” The C.D.C.’s unfortunate habit of saying things as if they were certainties only to have to acknowledge that its judgment was questionable, says Wenzel, “can cause people to lose faith in the public health system.”
When you think about it, many of the Obama administration’s “scandals” have been failures of competence. The Secret Service let a man leap over the White House fence and get into the White House. The Veterans Health Administration covered up unconscionable delays in treating veterans. The error-ridden rollout of the Obamacare website was a nightmare for people trying to sign up for health insurance. The Republican right takes it as an article of faith that the national government can’t do anything right. Problems like these only help promote that idea.
And now comes the C.D.C. — the most trusted agency in government — thrust in a role for which it was designed: advising us and protecting us from a potential contagion. With every new mistake, it becomes, in the public eye, just another federal agency that can’t get it right.
The shocking competence gap and the cavernous honesty gap — brought to you by the “most transparent administration in history” — make our heads spin as we careen from debacle to government-induced debacle. In the tumult, we can miss the main point: Why do we have a federal government?
Its purpose is to safeguard the American people and pursue our interests in the world, not to solve the world’s problems on our dime and, occasionally, by using us as laboratory mice. As free people, we can try to save the planet. The federal government, however, was not created to do it for us, much less to coerce us into implausible “humanitarian” schemes that always manage to line some crony’s pocket. National interest is our government’s only reliable compass, yet it has been discarded.
It is a short step to incompetence when you lose sight of what you are expected to be competent at accomplishing. It is an even shorter step to mendacity for a ruling class that is schooled to believe the country is fatally flawed and, thus, that the pursuit of our national interests is evil. It turns out that when real crises rivet their attention, the rubes still expect the government to protect and defend them. At that point, the government must either attend to those basic duties, or lie.
This government has made its choice.
The distaste of the Beutlers, Sargents, and Gibbses of the world is, in some part, the product of rank partisanship. But it is also the result of the specific challenge that Democratic incompetence poses to those who wish the state to be an effective and pervasive force in our national life. When Republicans are in office, progressives are able to attribute the failures of the state to any number of perfidious forces: a lack of care by those in charge; inadequate interest in helping the afflicted; a deep-seated hostility to government that, inevitably, renders it ineffective; the inherent ineptitude of those outside of the chosen class; the presumably malevolent influence of big business; deliberate, ideologically driven underfunding; etc., etc. In the wake of conservative mistakes, moreover, reformers on the left are accorded the opportunity to promise that Democrats — by virtue of being the natural party of the state — will be able do better. When such a Democrat fails to do so, however, their champions are faced with a genuine problem. Presumably, their guy can’t be evil or indifferent or corrupt. What happened?
In these instances, progressives have three choices: 1) They can deem their party’s leader to be uniquely incompetent; 2) They can charge that his opponents are guilty of sabotage (the Obamacare rollout provided a stellar example of this); or 3) They can accuse the media of whipping up critical sentiment. At no point, however, can it be conceded that government itself might perhaps be to blame, nor can it be acknowledged that, when the state intrudes in areas in which it cannot hope to do well, it invariably hurts the public’s faith in its more traditional functions. To admit as much would be to concede that there are real limits on what public officials can effectively achieve — an admission that is unlikely to be forthcoming.
Was the director of the CDC somehow unaware that Ebola has been ravaging nations in Africa for months? Is there any possible explanation beyond rank incompetence for why Frieden’s agency would respond with anything other than a “hands-on” control team to a case within the United States?…
The enormous size and complexity of large bureaucracies — built to manage societies of enormous size and complexity — can make them sluggish, inefficient, and prone to stupidity, with one part of the organization unaware of what other parts are doing. This can also set up conditions for chronic blame-shifting when things go wrong. “Mistakes were made” is the kind of evasively passive construction that only a bureaucrat or a corporate tool could utter with a straight face…
The disgraceful institutional incompetence of the present gloomy moment is the result — as is the perfectly reasonable but potentially ruinous decline in our trust in public institutions.
I have no idea where it will end. But it can’t be anywhere good.
Finally, we can’t just cut ourselves off from West Africa, where this disease is raging. Our medical experts tell us that the best way to stop this disease is to stop it at its source-before it spreads even wider and becomes even more difficult to contain. Trying to seal off an entire region of the world — if that were even possible — could actually make the situation worse. It would make it harder to move health workers and supplies back and forth. Experience shows that it could also cause people in the affected region to change their travel, to evade screening, and make the disease even harder to track.
So the United States will continue to help lead the global response in West Africa.