September 24th, 2021


Letting no panic go to waste

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published Oct. 14, 2014

There's so much fuel for hysteria, a crisis-monger hardly knows where to start.

The Ebola "epidemic" in America — two cases so far, and one them actually originated on another continent, oceans away — is reported by certain tabloids, television correspondents, radio talkers and Web "news" sites as though it were the greatest threat to mankind since dinosaurs walked the earth, which was even before there was a mankind. The Malaysian airliner that disappeared over the Indian Ocean was the previous worst world crisis.

We have other candidates. Secretary of State John F. Kerry continues to poke his dead horse with a stick, trying to get it up for another beating. "What happens if the [global warming] skeptics are wrong?" he asked an audience, speaking rhetorically in Boston. "If they're wrong, catastrophe. Life as you know it on earth ends. Seven degrees increase Fahrenheit, and we can't sustain crops, water, life under those circumstances." We'll all going to join the dinosaurs.

The "war" against ISIS, or ISIL, or Islamic State, or whatever they're calling it this week, continues to go south, literally and figuratively. President Obama's coalition of the unwilling isn't even trying very hard to get its act, whatever it might be, together and moving. The generals are frustrated because the war Mr. Obama wants to fight is falling apart.

The Democrats are in full panic mode as the November elections draw near, though it is not at all clear whether there's a tidal wave of Republican sentiment, or merely a chop in the water as the usual midterm tide rolls in. The signs all say it's a Republican year, but it doesn't yet feel like a wave to smash everything, particularly Harry Reid. There's still time, but time is beginning to fleet.

In what is becoming the Solid South again, only this time solidly Republican, some surviving Democratic dynasties (and would-be dynasties) are running on empty. In Georgia, Sam Nunn, once an island of Democratic substance in his party's Southern crumble, is trying to boost his daughter into the U.S. Senate, where he served with distinction, but with uncertain prospects. She's making the race respectable, but trails in most polls.

In Arkansas, David Pryor, who was once the governor and a U.S. senator remembered mostly for arriving and leaving Washington with nobody noticing either time, is trying to shore up the wilting re-election campaign of his son, Mark, who will be remembered as a decent, nice boy just like his decent, nice daddy. His daddy, now 80, and his mama, of a certain age, campaigned for him last week in what David Pryor ungallantly called "the antiques road show through Arkansas." Nearly everybody they ran into, asking them to vote for Mark, was polite and deferential. There were few promises. Manners are still important in the land of cotton, perhaps even of Rep. Tom Cotton, the Republican candidate.

Bubba parachuted into Little Rock from New York, or Washington, or wherever it is he puts his shoes under a bed. He was in town to help Mark, and talked mostly about himself. That suited Mark Pryor just fine, because he is often stumped for an answer when somebody wishes him good morning. Last week, a television reporter cornered him at a fair and asked how he thought President Obama was handling the Ebola crisis.

"Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," he replied. When the reporter persisted, he said "Ummmmmmmmmm." He finally recovered from the tough questioning enough to say something about how the president was sending some help and stuff to Africa. He is, however, definitely against Ebola. He's down 8 points in the latest poll, and fading.

It's hard to trivialize something as lethal and frightening as Ebola, but we're trying. Two people with symptoms similar to Ebola — headache, fever, vomiting — were taken to Bellevue Hospital in New York City, but officials wouldn't say they were there or if not, where they were. A teenage boy who was taken to the hospital in Brooklyn two days ago with "symptoms" was said not to be suffering with Ebola, but was kept in isolation because he had recently been in Sudan, which is 4,000 miles from West Africa, but close enough for panic. Men in impressive hazard suits at Los Angeles International Airport met a flight from New York because someone aboard was throwing up. A man was later diagnosed with air sickness. Late Monday, five passengers with "flu-like symptoms" were walked off an airliner from Dubai, which is many thousands of miles from West Africa, but it was nevertheless grist for the panic.

The prudent thing on this occasion is to make Ebola a practice drill for the real panic. No crisis should go to waste.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.