I love obscure pop culture references, so yes, the title of this post riffs off the song “Lola” by The Kinks. This post is not really about Ebola, though. It’s about the varying reactions to the cases of Ebola that have occurred in the US.
The first thing that strikes me is how the public’s reaction is so different than the various government agencies, at all levels. The second thing that strikes me is how there is no coherent response between the various levels of government. But let’s take the public’s reaction first.
You can read polls and listen to people on television, but my visceral sense is that the public is, by and large, scared shitless. You can argue about whether the public’s reaction is rational based on the actual nature of the crisis (or argue about whether, in the US, it even is a crisis), but nothing I’ve seen so far can convince me that people are remaining calm and going breezily about their business. And I have a theory as to why people are so frightened.
It’s not so much that they’re afraid of the disease. They’re afraid because the integrity of the institutions that are supposed to be looking out for their well-being continues to erode, as it has been for probably twenty years now. This is not a political statement, by the way. This is an Equal Opportunity Observation from someone who has seen this erosion continue regardless of which party is in power. So pick your favorite reason. Was it the flawed justification for invading Iraq, or was it withdrawing all our soldiers so we could “end the war” only to see the place descend into chaos? Was it the repeal of the federal law (Glass Steagal) that kept retail banks separate from investment banks, or the fact that no one seemed to realize what that meant until the collapse of 2008? Was it the lack of focus on Al Qaeda prior to 9/11, or was it calling ISIS a JV team wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey? See what I mean?
Anyway, add to that the current response to the Ebola situation, with its myriad confusions and policy prescriptions that don’t reconcile with each other and it’s no wonder people are afraid. I mean, on the one hand you’ve got the governors of New York and New Jersey (bi-partisanship at last!) calling for mandatory quarantines for people returning from the hot zone, and on the other hand you’ve got the Feds saying that’s a bad idea. Unless, of course, the people in question that have been in the hot zone happen to also be in the US military, in which case they are not only quarantined, but not even allowed to return to the States. They’re being quarantined in Italy. Italy!
So pardon me if I don’t quite buy it when my local mayor, or my governor, or my congressperson, or my President, tells me not to worry. I think it was Mencken who said, “When they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.” That’s kind of how I feel right now about Ebola. When they say don’t worry, we’ve got it under control, run as fast as you can to the cleaning aisle, load up on bleach, then jump headfirst into a vat of hand sanitizer.