It seems pretty clear that the possibility that an Ebola-related travel ban will be imposed in the near future is growing with each passing day. Those who provide informed expertise about this sort of thing advise against such a policy. Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calls the notion "a solution that's quick, simple, and wrong." The White House currently holds with the CDC on this regard.
These positions haven't been taken in some information vacuum. In fact, the case against a travel ban is very compelling. A travel ban would impede the efforts of those who are trying to contain the disease in West Africa -- where, unlike America, there is an actual outbreak. Citizens of those nations would be harder to trace and could be more inclined to withhold the truth from officials. Isolating those nations would impose an unnecessary financial burden on the affected area, and could create the sort of public unrest that would imperil the fragile governing institutions in the region. Overall, the travel ban is a policy that would likely make containing the outbreak more difficult, ratcheting up the probability of a more serious episode on these shores.
But travel ban fever appears to be implacable. It's being driven by three factors. First, you have good old-fashioned political pressure against the White House's decision to not impose one. Second, you have the cable news industry, which has mostly fused its Ebola coverage with its ongoing "jihad against human intelligence." (Fox News' Shepard Smith currently serves as a welcome exception to this, but he is outnumbered and outgunned.) Finally, there are our heroic candidates on the campaign trail, who have at long last found in this Ebola crisis the means to parade around as serious people and score the cheap political points that millions of dollars of donor boodle had hitherto failed to provide.
And perhaps there is a fourth factor: We could just toss logic aside, because cowering in a psychological security blanket just takes less effort than fighting the disease responsibly. That's the example set today by the National Review's Marc Siegel, who in the space of two paragraphs goes from articulating a very eloquent and succinct prosecutorial brief against imposing a travel ban to ... just sort of shrugging and reaching for the warmth and security of his footie pajamas:
Sadly, it has reached the point where we will not feel safe unless we ban travel to and from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. The reason this is a sad moment is that there is a good chance it could interfere with the flow of health care and resources to and from these countries. Not only that, but, historically, when a country suffering from a growing epidemic has felt cut off from the rest of the world, the fear quotient has risen, and people afraid of the contagion have attempted to flee. Unfortunately, when people hastily attempt to escape imposed restrictions, they tend to take fewer precautions, which increases their chances of catching the dreaded disease.
But first and foremost, although we are members of the world health community, we must worry about our own public psyche here in the United States. If our leaders can’t give us a sense that we are protected, we must achieve it by imposing a ban.
You just want to say, "Snap out of it man!" But Siegel goes on to restate all of this: "I don’t believe that a travel ban against the Ebola-afflicted countries in West Africa will be particularly effective, it may even be counterproductive, and it certainly isn’t coming from the strongest side of what being an American means. But as fear of Ebola and fear of our leaders’ ineptitude grows, I think we must have a ban to patch our battered national psyche."
Presumably after the travel ban proves to be as ineffective as he believes it to be and the situation worsens, our national psyche will be in a really kick-ass mood and ready to go. Say what you want about this, though: While this attitude defies common sense and logic, throws accumulated knowledge in the bin, and shortsightedly reaches for cheap comfort instead of courage, this sort of "thought leadering" is nonetheless, at the moment, quintessentially American. (See also: "Afghanistan, war in," "2008 financial crisis, response to.")
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