President Obama continues to resist demands for an Ebola travel ban from affected West African nations, even as those demands have become a tripartisan chorus that includes Republicans, Democrats, and independent cranks like Bill Maher. At a House hearing on the Ebola crisis Thursday, lawmakers from both parties voiced support for a travel ban, but for a textbook example of just how powerful the stupid surrounding Ebola can be, even the otherwise reasonable Bill Maher is expelling Derpbola contagions all over the place.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Maher starts out with the same reasonable concerns I talked about yesterday, that rare middle space between crapping and napping. Maher says he's "not panicking," but correctly points out that the response to the few cases we've had in the U.S. has not matched the expectations we've been given. "First it was: 'It’s not going to get here.' And then it got here. Then: 'It’s not going to spread out from the one guy,' and then it spread out from that one guy," he said.
So far, so good, but then he brings the derp hard and fast:
Where’s the kick-ass-and-take-names mentality that we need with Ebola right now? I’ve really had it with all this “voluntary Ebola” response. Where’s the mandatory quarantine? Do we really need to have people flying in-and-out of Liberia to take care of the crisis, specifically?
Set aside that kicking ass is one of the surest ways to get some Ebola on you, what the fuck does that even mean? This is a microscopic organism, we can't beat it up or bomb it, and yes, we actually do need people flying in and out of Liberia to fight the disease. How's this for a recruiting poster? "Liberia: Come for the Ebola outbreak, stay for the foreseeable future to make panicky white people feel slightly better."
Later in the interview, Maher even says that this outbreak could tarnish Obama's entire legacy:
It doesn’t take away that he got healthcare through and saved the economy from falling into a depression, but man, I just think that he should have been more out front on Ebola. Maybe it’ll get contained and all go away, but if it doesn’t, I just feel like we could’ve used a kick-ass-and-take-names guy from the get-go.
I'm not sure who Maher thinks would be a "kick-ass-and-take-names guy," but it sounds a lot like he's yearning for a president who stuffs a sock down his pants, puts on a hazmat suit, and does the Running Man in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner. This is what fear does to people, even very smart people, who aren't paying attention. It shouldn't take a president to explain this, but Obama did anyway following his top-level Ebola meeting yesterday:
"If we institute a travel ban instead of the protocols that we’ve put in place now, history shows that there is a likelihood of increased avoidance. People do not readily disclose their information. They may engage in something called broken travel, essentially breaking up their trip so that they can hide the fact that they have been to one of these countries where there is a disease in place. And as a result, we may end up getting less information about who has the disease. They’re less likely to get treated properly, screened properly, quarantined properly. And as a consequence, we could end up having more cases rather than less."
What Maher and all of the other reactionaries who want to seal our borders are missing is that they are targeting the one part of our response that has worked. Thomas Eric Duncan slipped through because he wasn't symptomatic, but as soon as he was, he went to the hospital. One guy out of the 150 or so a day who travel here from the three affected countries developed symptoms, and immediately sought treatment. He was turned away, and yet miraculously, none of the people he had contact with between his first and second visits to the hospital got sick.
The flow of travel, right now, is such that being able to screen and monitor these folks is an advantage that far outweighs the risk of one asymptomatic person slipping through, especially given the likelihood of fast identification and treatment. The White House hasn't ruled out a travel ban if the facts change, but forcing the sick underground, when we have demonstrated an ability to screen and identify them, is self-evidently a bad idea.
On Friday morning, the president did act on a different demand that critics of the Ebola response have made, and appointed former Joe Biden Chief of Staff Ron Klain "Ebola czar," despite the fact that czars are obviously evil instruments of tyranny. Klain will head the effort that has thus far been run by a committee of cabinet officials coordinated by Lisa Monaco.
Here's the full video of President Obama's Thursday remarks on Ebola:
Update: Congratulations, Bill Maher, you are now Ted Cruz, and Ted Cruz is you. Here's Cruz's statement on Klain's appointment (via email):
“We don't need another so-called 'czar'; we need presidential leadership. This is a public health crisis, and the answer isn't another White House political operative. The answer is a commander in chief who stands up and leads, banning flights from Ebola-afflicted nations and acting decisively to secure our southern border. The Ebola outbreak shouldn't be treated as yet another partisan battle by the White House; rather, we should come together in bipartisan unity to take these common-sense steps to protect the American people. And if the President will not act, if he will not lead, then Congress should immediately reconvene for an emergency session to enact a flight ban and take any other necessary measures to protect the health and safety of Americans.”