"Protocols.” You can’t turn on your TV without hearing about them. The last time the word featured so prominently in American public discourse was when Henry Ford took it upon himself to pay for and distribute half a million copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion almost a century ago. History, of course, isn’t repeating itself. The publication of those Protocols was designed to foster fear and loathing of Jews. The invocation of these “protocols” by Obama administration officials as they bungle the Ebola crisis is designed to shield themselves from justified fear and loathing on the part of the citizenry.
The bungling is a result of a toxic confluence of two major strains of contemporary liberalism—the bureaucratic ineptness of big government and the political correctness of the nanny state. Characteristically, the strains seek to conceal themselves. Bureaucratic ineptness hides behind the “protocols” that Tom Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control and his colleagues endlessly cite. Political correctness hides behind edifying exhortations like that of White House press secretary Josh Earnest that “we live in a global world.”
But the protocols and the exhortations have been mugged by reality. It turns out protocols can’t substitute for sound policy and real leadership. It turns out the global world can’t substitute for the nation-state. Government officials like Frieden and Earnest swear an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and to “well and faithfully discharge the duties” of their offices. They owe allegiance to the nation more than to the world, and they owe the nation their judgment more than their protocols. They are not faithfully discharging their duties of office when they make their priority protecting bureaucracies and enforcing orthodoxies.
But that’s what they’re doing. That’s what Americans see them doing.
Who’ll speak for these Americans? The task shouldn’t be a partisan one, but in fact it today falls primarily to one party. Democrats around the country may now be willing to deny they ever voted for President Obama, but they’re remarkably unwilling to challenge his policies. That’s because they too believe in the bureaucracies and orthodoxies of liberalism.
So it’s up to Republicans to expose the bureaucracies and criticize the orthodoxies—to ask why visas for travel to the United States are still being issued in West Africa and why American military forces are being deployed there without a workable plan or intelligible purpose, why CDC spending priorities are so skewed and CDC management so weak, and why here at home routine police powers aren’t being used and routine public health measures aren’t being implemented.
Republicans can also point to an alternate path. They can draw upon genuine experts to explain what should be done. As Jeff Bergner recently discussed in these pages, the media have tagged the GOP as “the anti-science, anti-reason party.” It’s a bum rap. But it’s been a politically effective one. This is a chance for Republicans to turn the tables. It’s a chance for conservatives to show, in this as in other instances, that it’s today’s liberals who put prejudice ahead of science and ideology ahead of reason. It’s a chance for Republicans to ally themselves with the scientists, physicians, nurses, and public health professionals who are trying to urge sensible alternatives to the fumbling failures of the Obama administration that have been so depressingly and dangerously on display.
“Don’t politicize the tragedy of Ebola,” the liberal media will say. To the contrary, we say: Don’t be afraid to politicize the Ebola crisis—but in the right way. What we need is politicization rightly understood, in which the opposition party exposes the failures of the administration in power and lays out a path to a better response. In so doing, conservatives—who don’t worship at the altar of liberal bureaucracy and aren’t intimidated by the dogmas of progressive orthodoxy—can make a case for their ability to effectively and faithfully discharge the duties of public office in the 21st century.