Who Called the Viruses and Bacteria?

October 17, 2014

Laurie Garrett is a public health expert, a former NPR reporter, and the author of Betrayal of Trust:  The Collapse of Public Health and other books. For Ms. Garrett, public health is “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals.” Wait, what? Individuals make the list, but last? Sounds like another “Obamacare defending, Socialist—it takes a village—thinking, “Getting ‘tween me and my Medicare,” G’mint plot to take away my doctor! Because:  freedom!

For better and worse, we live in a nation steeped in individualism. I take care of myself, you do the same, and we can all call it a life well-lived. Alas, nobody got buy-in from the viruses and bacteria! Sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, something starts “going around.” Like, maybe, now!

Now, I know President Obama has not brought onto this continent Ebola to prove we’re not exceptional (Phyllis Schlafly). He’s not exposing our soldiers in a plot to redistribute wealth (Laura Ingraham). He’s also not trying to start a civil war (Alex Jones), and he certainly doesn’t want to get us all infected to make the world more fair and equitable. (Michael Savage). (Suggestions—and there are more in Deranged Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory: Obama Intentionally Wants “To Infect The Nation with Ebola”—come courtesy of Media Matters for America.) Unfortunately, too much of what should be an opportunity to highlight what public health means, and why we need more of it, has gotten lost in the bullsh*t!

Here’s what fascinates me. The same crowd I referenced in the last paragraph opposes health care for, and I’ll use their term, not mine, “illegals.” Now, this crew thrives on explaining things for a living, so I’d like an explanation from them. Explain for me how it makes one lick of sense not to make sure the people who live among us are not healthy? Rail all you want about “they shouldn’t be here,” even though most undocumented people are here for jobs, most of which are provided by people—wealthy white Americans—like you. Complain about “I pay for my health care, why can’t they,” despite the fact that a big chunk of your health care costs are hidden behind tax expenditures and government spending on research, training physicians, and direct support of medical facilities. Say whatever you want, but those viruses and bacteria aren’t listening. No, they’re infecting our maids, our gardeners, the kid at the place where I get my coffee, etc.

Public health is about science. Yes, there’s some art involved, mostly in figuring out how to get buy-in, participation, and the like. And, for sure, public health is not some stand-alone discipline, separate and apart from individual care. That said, public health involves more than simply making sure everyone gets to the doctor.

We have certainly not handled this Ebola outbreak well, even though less than 1:100,000,000 of us have been infected. No, we’ve demonstrated that we have hospitals which are not prepared, and we’re developing plans “on the fly” for how we will treat infected individuals. We have not provided a comprehensive, cohesive front, and as smart and able as Dr. Tom Frieden is, he’s no match for the bloviating right.

For me, at least, and for now, Ebola in the USA is a public relations disaster. But it’s also a wake-up call about public health. We need better systems and better leadership, but systems require money, and they demand wise spending, something too often missing in a market-driven health care world. We also need leadership, and while that means many things, not tying up an exceptional Surgeon General nominee because he’s concerned about guns is one of them. (For more on the Dr. Vivek Murthy fiasco, read Why the NRA Is Blocking Obama’s Surgeon General Nominee by Zöe Carpenter.)

In closing, I urge you to read After Ebola by Michael Specter. The piece was published on August 1 in the New Yorker, but it’s still very current. I don’t come from the “America is exceptional” camp, mostly because I don’t think bragging on yourself works well, but if we want to have the bragging rights, we need to step up our game, big time! Shutting down flights from Africa, building taller fences, and ranting about our president won’t get the job done.

3 Responses to Who Called the Viruses and Bacteria?

  • Though as usual I mostly agree with you. Where I don’t is our tendency to always blame the other side for our own deficiencies. I fear it makes our own arguments weaker.
    While Republicans made no secret of deciding that their number one goal was the failure of Barack Obama, something that I admit is appalling, there is no doubt in my mind that many of his actions, particularly his pronouncements, have consistently provided them with swords to go after him with. A quote by Richard Nixon in the Frost interviews admitted he gave his enemies the knife but finished the quote by saying “they twisted it with gusto.”
    It’s time we demand to be treated like adults and with candor by our politicians. Our President has not and continues to not do so. It’ll take too long to go through my list of disappointments over the years….we can talk.
    Here’s just two general things:
    Most people forget Obama’s most important campaign pledge in his campaign followed by a statement in his ’08 inaugural. He was committed to bringing us together. Recently I saw an interview with a notable Washington left leaning columnist who was asked to name one ally/ friend Obama has worked with in the Senate or Congress, democrat or Republican. He smiled and said none. The man who promised to bring us together has simply made absolutely no effort to create any relationships which are essential to foster coalitions to govern with. He’s even excluded his own party.
    Second, I’d suggest people read Game Change, the book about the ’08 election. The HBO movie only covered 25% of the book because Sarah Palin was fun to watch implode. There were 3 sections, 2 covering the Primary periods of D’s and R’s and 1 covering the general. The general equally covered the D campaign and the R campaign (which included the Sarah fiasco).
    Obama does not come off well. He was anything but inspirational; he was a typical “parrot” the words people want to hear candidate. Despite the mantra of the R’s that he is a left wing ideologue, you would be hard pressed to find anything he stood for….other than being elected. (The only person who I felt came out looking good in that book was Hillary).
    Obama continues down this path.His public pronouncements on just about everything seem to be poll tested, not candid.
    My point? Sorry but yes I had a point and it was not to bash Obama….yes, “they, the R’s” are FAR worse. My point is I’m damned tired of defending Obama and other pols by saying, “they’re worse.”
    Until we demand the same candor, the same courage, the same commitment to something other than winning from those we agree with, politics as usual will not change.
    Rant over, we can talk sometime about it.

  • I have to recant much of what I wrote in my response posted on 10/17. I hope too many people didn’t read it.
    I read an article posted by a “bozo” yesterday blaming Obama policies for the “roller coaster” stock market. He was given zero credit for the almost tripling of the market from the day he took office but is miraculously responsible, I suppose, for its recent choppiness.
    It’s just stunning and it makes my blood boil to read this trash.
    I guess while my criticisms of Obama are real and I continue to have buyers remorse about voting for him rather than Hillary in the ’08 primaries; he gets far too much thrown at him without me adding to the drumbeat of BS leveled against him and the wind in his face created by opponents who seem to care nothing about the citizenry.
    Overall I have supported most of what he has done and that should be the bottom line.
    Nuff said: Your next topic was the joyous celebration on the Courthose steps.
    An unconditional “Bravo” on that.

  • Thanks for the update. Bringing people together requires movement, almost always from both sides. Unfortunately, in this case to the extent by which the right has moved since 11/2008, the movement has been to the right. Separate and apart from the fact that no president will ever again be able to make us happy, it must be extraordinarily difficult to keep trying to bring people together when you cannot even get them to accept the fact that you hold the job lawfully, and they tout their plans to see you fail. BTW, I expect Hillary would have met challenges similar in degree, if not in kind. I don’t think the fact that she was able to break bread with Rs in the Senate means they will give her any sort of cooperation if she gets elected in 2016, or that they would have in 2009.

    With all of the foregoing having been said, I do think President Obama has been less than stellar in many respects. His biggest failing totally surprises me, and that has been his inability to rally the population to his side, a failing I attribute to a lack of any cohesive, coordinated plan for communicating with Americans. I’m amazed by the lack of any out-of- the-box approaches to reaching us, and I don’t mean a dinner with regular people every so often. How about an every three months “shareholder meeting” a la Berkshire Hathaway? Or weekly press conferences? Or something? In tough times every management thing I’ve ever read says you need to keep your people “on the inside,” and that has been lacking here.

Leave a Reply