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Obama and Bush’s Shared Dysfunction

Ebola has only amplified the governmental brokenness that unraveled the past two presidencies.
Obama Bush

With the midterm elections two weeks away, polls indicate the Republicans will walk away with majorities in both the House and Senate. The Senate, which has been held by the Democrats since 2006, will likely change hands; the GOP is forecast to win a slight majority of Senate seats on Nov 4. According the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato, it is possible that the GOP may capture as many as 251 House seats. If the forecast proves correct, the Obama administration may be in for even stormier weather.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the virus’s subsequent appearance in the U.S. late last month have, among other things, highlighted the lamentable state of our governing institutions. Not since FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina under the wondrously out-of-their-depth duo of George W. Bush and Michael Brown has the American public been treated to such a sorry spectacle. In the month since the announcement that Liberian national Thomas Duncan had carried the virus via United Airlines to Dallas, the administration has not once found its footing. The administration has staked out a series of positions on issues relating to the outbreak that they have, in short order, been obliged to reverse.

Speaking at CDC headquarters in Atlanta on September 16, the President assured the public that “In the unlikely event that someone with Ebola does reach our shores, we’ve taken new measures so that we’re prepared here at home.” Three days later, Mr. Duncan arrived in Dallas. CDC Chief Thomas Frieden and State Department automaton Marie Harf have both publicly criticized proposals to ban travel to and from West Africa, yet a the White House spokesman told reporters that the president isn’t “philosophically opposed” to a ban. When Republicans called on the White House to appoint a “czar” to oversee the burgeoning crisis, the idea, as recently as a week ago, was dismissed out of hand by the administration. Yet on Friday October 18, the White House announced the appointment of former Gore and Biden Chief of Staff Ron Klain to be its Ebola “czar.” This after strenuous protests from the press secretary that White House Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco had the situation well in hand. Apparently not. Yet Klain’s qualifications for the post have been the subject of much debate, and rightly so; it is very telling that the White House obviously views this as a little more than a political problem which needs some finessing.

To be sure, the White House’s chaotic response is merely a symptom of a more fundamental problem: that of federal government’s increasing dysfunction. Last week, in a letter to President Obama, the National Nurse’s Union called for certain mandates and protocols be put in place in hospitals to safeguard the lives of their members. The letter read, in part:

We know that without these mandates to health care facilities we are putting registered nurses, physicians, and other health care workers at extreme risk … they are our first line of defense. We would not send soldiers to the battlefield without armor and weapons.

Actually, there is abundant proof that the government had done something very close to that during the Iraq war, while the Pentagon made every effort to cover up the fact.

In any case, Mr. Obama won the presidency in 2008 in part because he was the superior candidate, but in larger part because he was so obviously not the bumbling George W. Bush; during his first run for the White House Obama was generally seen to be both cool-headed and competent. Yet with his administration’s embarrassing performance since his re-election two years ago, the façade seems to be crumbling, and not least because the president seems to want to be, well, just about anyplace but Washington. In light of the likelihood of a GOP sweep in November, will House Republicans try and fulfill his wish?

James Carden is a TAC contributing editor, and served as an advisor to the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission at the State Department from 2011-2012.



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