‘A new kind of hell to pay’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRU­DEN

an­gles, for so many mis­takes that he’s made,” the plain-spo­ken real-es­tate ty­coon Don­ald Trump says, “that he has be­come im­mune to ‘hell to pay.’” But if Ebola fear de­scends into some­thing worse than fear, “you’re go­ing to see a whole new kind of ‘hell to pay.’”

The lazy me­dia is at last notic­ing the in­com­pe­tence and im­po­tence. No one — well, almost no one — is any longer charmed by the smooth-talk­ing but­terand-egg man from the South Side of Chicago. Ed­i­tors and re­porters are ter­ri­fied of get­ting sick, just like ev­ery­one else. “The ef­fort to fight Ebola needs a leader,” ob­serves the usu­ally faith­ful New Yorker mag­a­zine, and the clear im­pli­ca­tion is that there isn’t one. The pres­i­dent’s Ebola czar, like ev­ery­one else, is run­ning from the sound of the sneeze.

The “what was he think­ing” mo­ments ac­cu­mu­late. Why did the pres­i­dent, usu­ally so scorn­ful of na­tion-build­ing, dis­patch the Army to West Africa for bed­pan duty, as im­por­tant as bed­pan duty may be? Why send sol­diers 4,600 miles from home with­out a clear, and clearly un­der­stood, plan for get­ting them out and bring­ing them home? The pres­i­dent in­sists that there must be no quar­an­tines for doc­tors and nurses re­turn­ing from Ebola duty, but the De­fense Depart­ment has or­dered a 21-day quar­an­tine for sol­diers re­turn­ing from such duty.

The com­man­der in chief, de­part­ing Wash­ing­ton for cam­paign duty in Wis­con­sin, scoffed at the no­tion that there’s a con­tra­dic­tion. “First of all,” he said, “[the sol­diers] are not treat­ing pa­tients. Sec­ond of all, they are not there vol­un­tar­ily. It’s part of their mis­sion that’s been as­signed to them by their com­man­ders and ul­ti­mately by me.” Only this com­man­der in chief would make such a cold remark, the im­pli­ca­tion be­ing that his troops are fod­der and “the health-care pro­fes­sion­als” are not. Be­sides, the Pen­tagon tells CNN, it’s not a quar­an­tine, but only “con­trolled mon­i­tor­ing.” The White House in­sists it isn’t wor­ried about a co­her­ent strat­egy for get­ting the troops home. That’s for somebody else to worry about some other time. “We’re go­ing to let sci­ence drive that process,” the pres­i­dent’s press sec­re­tary says.

The sci­en­tists driv­ing “the process” con­tinue to make con­ve­nient changes in the sci­ence. After weeks of re­as­sur­ing ev­ery­one that ca­sual con­tact can­not spread Ebola, the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion now says the dis­ease can be spread through “droplets,” the stuff that floats in the air when an in­fected some­one coughs or sneezes, and “en­ters the eyes, nose or mouth of another per­son.”

A pub­lic aroused to anger of­ten reaches for the near­est club to pun­ish politi­cians who evade, lie, dis­tort and dis­sem­ble in the face of cri­sis. Such a mo­ment is com­ing up Tues­day. Wes­ley Pru­den is ed­i­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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