The days dwindle down to a precious few, and the White House continues to be bewitched, bothered and bewildered. The gang that can't shoot straight keeps banging away. A lot of feet at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. are riddled with holes.
The Republicans demonstrated remarkable discipline in this campaign, committing few mistakes and this time saying a minimum of silly and destructive things, standing aside while Barack Obama and his befuddled legion make their incompetence a centerpiece of the campaign. The Republicans have finally taken to heart the ancient wisdom that when your opponent is shooting himself, be kind, considerate and helpful. Stay out of his way.
Since this is a Republican year — nearly all the pollsters and pundits say so — this is the week Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate should begin breaking away, opening up comfortable leads with only days to go. So far that's not happening. The weekend polls even show some of the races tightening. Uncertainty has yet to give way to resolution. The week is young.
The Ebola virus is not on anybody's ballot, but it has cast a deep shadow over everyone's campaign. Despite the fear and loathing, Ebola is not remotely an epidemic in America, but the government's mishandling of the response makes everyone worry about what could happen if such an epidemic does happen here. The constant refrain that everyone should disdain politics, and let science do its work, overlooks the inconvenient fact that it's the scientists who have bumbled and fumbled from the beginning, as if they were mere humans. It was politics — driven by outrage — that gave science the needed kick in the pants.
In a rare outburst of the nonpartisan politics that everyone is said to be itching for, two governors — one Republican, Chris Christie of New Jersey, and one Democrat, Andrew Cuomo of New York — jointly announced that "health care professionals" (the bloviator's term for "doctors and nurses"), returning from Ebola Central in West Africa would be quarantined for 21 days. This seemed like common sense almost everywhere but in Washington, where the states are expected to follow, not lead.
Quarantines outrage the scientists and the health care professionals, particularly at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has led the way in fumbling and bumbling. When the White House pressured the governors to rescind their quarantines, New York caved at once and New Jersey held out a few hours longer. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Health's allergy and infectious-disease studies, complained that aggressive quarantines make doctors and nurses "very, very uncomfortable." Kaci Hickox, the nurse who was freed from the New Jersey quarantine, complained that her isolation was "inhumane" and "we have to be very, very careful about letting politicians make health decisions." She has hired a lawyer, naturally.
The "politicians," who bear responsibilities beyond those of the doctors and nurses, imposed the quarantines after a doctor returned from West Africa, having been exposed for weeks to patients with the virus, and went bowling, subway-riding and having a good time in Manhattan. He came down with the tell-tale symptoms the next day. He is recovering slowly, but his irresponsible behavior left a lot of damage in his wake. More stuff to blame on the president.
The doctors and nurses dispatched from North America and Europe to the dark continent are indeed "heroic." Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, not heretofore recognized as a military historian or even someone with a reputation for thinking happy thoughts about soldiers, compares them to the U.S. Marines. We should give them a ticker-tape parade up Fifth Avenue, like the parades for Charles Lindbergh and Douglas MacArthur. But doctors, nurses and Marines carry germs, too.
The U.S. Army, with hundreds of troops assigned to Ebola duty in West Africa — "nation-building," you might say — is taking no chances with germs. A dozen returning soldiers were assigned to 21-day isolation at a base in Italy on Monday, to tarry there to make sure they won't bring the virus home to the States. No nights on the town. So far such isolation will be applied only to troops returning from Liberia, but the Army's Joint Chiefs of Staff want to apply it to troops returning as well as from Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will decide. President Obama, as wary as he might be of a stray Ebola virus, sent his press agent out to say he would leave it up to the Army. "We're going to let science drive that."
The man is a glutton for self-inflicted punishment, and this is the week he will feel more of it.