We expect that politicians are going to be demagogues. It is almost part of the job description — at least in the modern United States. What we don’t expect are wimpy demagogues who backtrack the moment anyone pushes back. But we should! Demagoguery is a form of bullying, and it is what weak people engage in. I’ve argued this in a general sense for a very long time. A parent can beat a small child into submission, but I think we all understand that that doing that is a sign of weakness, not strength. Similarly, strength is trying to win a political fight on the merits — not trying to push people’s emotional buttons.
So when wimp-bully duo Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie announced their automatic 21-day quarantine for people exposed to Ebola in West Africa, it was just a matter of time before they folded. It might have helped if the deceitful duo had, I don’t know, listened to people who know about this kind of stuff. But that would have ruined it! The only way they could simultaneously foment fear and elevate themselves to the status of “brave statesmen” was by avoiding, you know, the facts.
But alas, Dumb and Dumber didn’t know what they were up against, as Alex Altman reported in Time, Why Christie’s Ebola Quarantine Gambit Backfired:
That brave nurse, of course, was Kaci Hickox. On Saturday, she published an oped in the Dallas Morning News about what exactly had happened to her on her return to the United States through Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday. In addition to being heartbreaking, it also highlighted the total incompetence of the people involved in the “brave” new quarantine effort. This part is especially good, and in a movie would be downright hilarious:
Four hours after I landed at the airport, an official approached me with a forehead scanner. My cheeks were flushed, I was upset at being held with no explanation. The scanner recorded my temperature as 101.
The female officer looked smug. “You have a fever now,” she said.
I explained that an oral thermometer would be more accurate and that the forehead scanner was recording an elevated temperature because I was flushed and upset.
I was left alone in the room for another three hours. At around 7 p.m., I was told that I must go to a local hospital. I asked for the name and address of the facility. I realized that information was only shared with me if I asked.
Eight police cars escorted me to the University Hospital in Newark. Sirens blared, lights flashed. Again, I wondered what I had done wrong.
I had spent a month watching children die, alone. I had witnessed human tragedy unfold before my eyes. I had tried to help when much of the world has looked on and done nothing.
At the hospital, I was escorted to a tent that sat outside of the building. The infectious disease and emergency department doctors took my temperature and other vitals and looked puzzled. “Your temperature is 98.6,” they said. “You don’t have a fever but we were told you had a fever.”
After my temperature was recorded as 98.6 on the oral thermometer, the doctor decided to see what the forehead scanner records. It read 101. The doctor felt my neck and looked at the temperature again. “There’s no way you have a fever,” he said. “Your face is just flushed.”
Jonathan Cohn provided a good rundown of the weekend, Chris Christie Isn’t Backing Down on the Ebola Quarantine. It turns out that officials in charge of this kind of stuff only found out as a result of the press conference. That’s just more evidence that this was all about politics: Cuomo trying to look strong following his embarrassing performance in the primary against Teachout and Christie looking for his chance to take the lead for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
The problem, I think, is that men like Cuomo and Christie are used to beating up poor people. The most powerful target they ever take on are teachers. But Hickox was something more. Bill DeBlasio said, “This hero is coming back from the front, having done the right thing, was treated with disrespect was treated with a sense that she had done something wrong when she hadn’t.” Cohn wrote this before she had been released:
What I think has to be kept in mind is that treating Ebola in Africa makes us safer as well. This is actually a case where we need to fight it over there so we don’t have to fight it here.