One again, the Washington, D.C. talk show-verse has performed a major public service – not by exposing serious governing wrongdoing or even seriously questioning the typically outrageous spin public officials try to put on their decisions or event, but by simply parroting that spin and at least (often unwittingly) helping vigilant citizens play a watchdog role.
In this case, the vital information was provided by the reliably establishmentarian Washington Week, and specifically by Alexis Simendinger. Discussing the Obama administration’s response to the ebola outbreak, the White House correspondent for the RealClearPolitics website made clear that the Obama administration’s strategy has prioritized not taking all reasonable steps to protect the American people, but keeping U.S. borders open to travelers from disease-stricken West Africa.
According to Simendinger, the only reason the president agreed to any airport screening of airline passengers from that region (measures that were also opposed by the World Health Organization) was to defuse pressure “from Congress and elsewhere” for “rolling the drawbidges up, to put the travel ban in place.”
That slight arch you could see Simendinger’s eyebrows taking while she made the point strongly suggests she’s all in with viewing travel ban supporters as yahoos. Certainly she gave no indication of disapproving the president’s preoccupation with PR. But her account nonetheless has shown the American people how ideology, not prudence, is driving government decisions that could affect their very lives.
If you still doubt how inexcusable this politically correct approach is, check out this new Washington Post account of screening procedures and their inherent shortcomings, and of travel statistics.
The Post report reminded readers once again that ebola’s presence can’t be detected by modern medicine until symptoms begin to appear. The 21-day incubation period means that a victim can harbor the disease for three weeks before its presence is discovered. So once out of a U.S. airport, West African visitors are able to travel unrestricted around the United States for nearly a month. It’s true that, based on current knowledge, ebola can only be transmitted once symptoms appear. But “appearance” can easily come on gradually, creating the risk of infections during this travel before the carrier seeks medical help.
The U.S. government is trying to deal with this issue through mandatory screenings of any inbound passengers from the three countries most heavily affected – Guinea , Liberia, and Sierra Leone – even if they are not displaying symptoms. But of course, if they are not symptomatic, then it’s entirely likely that in many cases, their infection will not be detected. As a safeguard, the Centers for Disease Control will require all such passengers to fill out questionnaires asking whether they have (knowingly) been in contact with ebola victims. Assuming they tell the truth (unlike the now-deceased victim from Liberia), and assuming they have any incentive whatever to tell the truth (and where do you think the best treatment will be given – West Africa? Or the United States?), it’s still anything but clear how American officials will be able to tell whether these travelers have had contact with ebola-infected surfaces.
What is making zero impression on President Obama or on his supporters on this issue is that these uncertainties, and all of the costs of domestic screening, can be completely eliminated with a travel ban. By refusing to admit anyone holding a passport from one of the affected countries – and arguably other African countries where the disease has been spotted recently – and anyone who has visited these countries recently, virtually all of the ebola threat can be kept safely away from American territory, and from the American people.
Moreover, the Post article demonstrates that the effect on global travel will be minimal. Only about 150 passengers from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone total arrive each day at the five U.S. airports where screening operations have been set up — because they receive 94 percent of the visitors from those countries. Extending the travel ban to other affected African countries would add only slightly to these totals. As I’ve written, inconvenience for travelers can be further reduced by giving those who have visited these countries recently, but who don’t hold their passports, a short grace period before extending the ban to this group.
Because deception can never always be caught, and because procedures put in place by human beings will never work perfectly, ebola could still arrive in the United States. The U.S. southern border’s porosity remains a threat as well. But there can be no question that the above travel ban would dramatically reduce the odds.
The preamble to the Constitution specifies that two prime duties of the U.S. government are to “provide for the common defense” and to “promote the general Welfare.” A president who won’t ban travelers from West Africa from entering the United States, and possibly spreading a deadly virus, is a president guilty of the worst form of on-the-job negligence,