When you have failed to convince voters and legislators that a socialized version of “health care (insurance) reform” is what the country needs, what better way to convince Americans to reconsider their positions on the matter than by manufacturing a national health care emergency? Just when you thought pork was a Congressional Democrat’s best friend at the end of the legislative day, along comes “Swine Flu.”
Although his comments made to push legislators to pass the stimulus bill of 2009 into law may not actually — in intent — have represented the politics of fear Candidate Obama swore his administration would not employ to achieve its goals, his recent designation of a “national health care emergency” can easily be understood as an example of just that.
Readers of the Council on Foreign Relations’ flagship publication, Foreign Affairs, may now be thinking of a particular edition of the journal that was published in July 2005. That edition was devoted to the impact viruses can have on the international system. In it, Editor James F. Hoge, Jr.’s “Editor’s Note” opened with the following Chicken-Littleish-in-hindsight remarks: “International health officials are warning that a deadly avian influenza virus may soon spread rapidly, overwhelming unprepared health systems in rich and poor countries alike.”
In “The Next Pandemic?,” the opening piece of that July/August 2005 edition of Foreign Affairs, CFR Senior Fellow for Global Health Laurie Garrett wrote:
“Scientists have long forecast the appearance of an influenza virus capable of infecting 40 percent of the world’s human population and killing unimaginable numbers. Recently, a new strain, H5N1 avian influenza, has shown all the earmarks of becoming that disease. Until now, it has largely been constrained to certain bird species, but that may be changing.
“The havoc such a disease could wreak is commonly compared to the devastation of the 1918-19 Spanish flu, which killed 50 million people in 18 months. But avian flu is far more dangerous. It kills 100 percent of the domesticated chickens it infects, and among humans the disease is also lethal: as of May 1 , about 109 people were known to have contracted it, and it killed 54 percent (although this statistic does not include any milder cases that may have gone unreported).”
As many now know, the terms avian flu and its micro-biological referent H5N1 did not actually explode onto the media’s radar until 2007. Eventually, however, this “next great pandemic” was soon proved as toothless a tiger in terms of its macro-impact on the human species as SARS when put next to the Spanish flu.
Jump forward to today: The Obama administration is continuing to demonstrate the political savvy the president no-doubt hopes will be a hallmark of his legacy by encouraging the CDC to do what it can to spur public attentiveness to and awareness of H1N1’s growing presence in America.
This is only strategically sensible. After all, as Laurie Garrett noted in 2005, “Scientists have long forecast the appearance of an influenza virus capable of infecting 40 percent of the world’s human population and killing unimaginable numbers.” And who really wants to be the president who ignored a potential paradigm-shifter like a newly human-infectious influenza strain that — Who knows? — could be the next plague.
The president’s attentiveness to this issue is about as politically sensible as George W. Bush’s administration’s unprecedented attentiveness to the spread of HIV/AIDS throughout Africa in terms of the aid it provided to fight the disease’s spread there. (Hey, when corruption in Africa — a continent on which America must strengthen its brand equity in order to slow the advance of Islamists’ agendas in many countries located therein — is about as insurmountable an issue as the summit of Mt. Everest for most quadriplegics, focusing on what you might actually be able to fix for people there is a logical step, particularly when the spread of HIV/AIDS is frequently attributable to lifestyle choices.)
While using the presidency’s profile to elevate awareness of dangerous diseases confronting people across the planet is obviously a commonality between the Obama and Bush administrations, so too is another facet, albeit this facet is one that is in the eye of the beholder.
This facet is best understood by the moniker many liberals tacked to the legacy they began writing for the presidency of “Bush, Jr.” even before he was reelected to a second term — fear monger.
Conservatives opposed to the profligate spending philosophies underpinning the authorship of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act rebuked as the “politics of fear” President Obama’s claim that if the stimulus bill of 2009 were not signed into law immediately — before most legislators could read its contents — the U.S. economy would fall further into recession, and perhaps even into a depression. After stumping for months with speech after speech crafted in the form of Democrats’ now time-honored genre of Bush Bashing, President Obama, according to his critics, was engaging in the same tactics his party tried so hard to punish his predecessor for in the 2004 election. Fear mongering, Republicans said, was afoot.
While they may not be right about that, with respect to their claims of the president’s actual intent that is, Obama’s recent designation of the spread of Swine Flu in America as a national health care emergency is precisely what Republicans and their fellow Americans should interpret as an overt move taken from the “Politics of Fear for Dummies” playbook.
President Obama’s declaration of this national health care emergency coincides — coincidentally his administration might emphasize if asked — with Democrats’ reintroduction of the so-called public option into the health care (insurance) reform legislation they’re trying to push through the Congress.
One can already hear the logical fallacies that will start to spew forth from the mouths of Congressional Democrats if the public option is challenged again: If we don’t include it in this legislation, and if we don’t pass this legislation now, the deaths of Americans who succumb to Swine Flu will be on the hands of our legislative opponents.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration knows better.
Why else would so many health care professionals be disinterested in receiving the Swine Flu vaccination that recently became available? Why else would the administration not have done more to ensure the manufacturers of that vaccine produced adequate amounts to meet public demands attributable to the president’s inflation of the concerns we should have about this flu strain — a flu strain whose effects are generally, in fact, much milder than those of the seasonal flu.
I am the business manager for a private pediatric practice. Like so many people whose professions regularly expose them to the communicable ailments afflicting sick Americans I will not seek out the Swine Flu vaccine. Nor will my wife, the chief medical officer and principal of that practice. Nor will the majority of medical professionals we know, be they doctors who will meet with and treat people suffering from Swine Flu or administrative staffers of the facilities those sick Americans will visit.
While transparency may no longer be Mr. Obama’s favorite word, his declaration of a national health care emergency in response to the spread of Swine Flu in America is “clearly” intended to bolster the effort to resurrect support for the public option. That support was stymied last summer when legislators were confronted by a terrible reality when those elected officials actually met with Main Street Americans during their “town hall” forums. That reality is: Most Americans do not want to convert their country’s health care system into a socialized one modeled after the failing systems of Europe and Canada.
The Democrats’ newfound hope of late: Americans might get scared enough about the Swine Flu for us to get away with “reforming,” and thus destroying the health care market place in America, a sector which represents as much as 16 percent of the U.S. economy. In the very least, they may not seek to replace those of us up for reelection soon for doing so.
Stumping in South Carolina, Democratic Presidential Primary Candidate Barack Obama mocked the promises made to Americans by his political opponents as the stuff of “okie-dokie” politics. If ever “okie-dokie” politics were afoot in America — if ever Americans needed sound reasons for the Democrats’ move to reintroduce the public option into their legislative sausage-making — that time is now.
If ever the politics of fear should be included among the clichés used to describe the legacy of a presidency, Obama’s is it.
DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed herein have been developed in observation of the effects of the current Swine Flu strain spreading across the planet. If that flu strain mutates, all bets are off.