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The Real Threat of the Ebola Virus

We still haven’t panicked about the Ebola virus, but the news that President Barack Obama cancelled two days of fundraising to deal with the disease has made us a bit more nervous. Only a matter of the utmost seriousness would interrupt the president’s fundraising, judging by some of the earth-shaking events that haven’t dented the schedule, and we’re not reassured that he’s taking charge.
The news is chock full stories suggesting that we’re all going to die, and even the most optimistically skeptical reader can’t help concluding that the government’s response has thus far been inept, but we suspect that the president’s newfound urgency has more to do with a growing threat to his approval ratings in the public opinion polls, which are lately low enough that the Democratic candidates in flyover country are declining to say if they ever voted for the guy. People get skittish about deadly diseases flying in unimpeded from the third world, and there’s already a widespread public perception that the president spends an inordinate amount of time fundraising and golfing and hanging out with his fellows celebrities while the world burns, so some photo-ops with a few anonymous health care workers and the equally anonymous cabinet are just what the spin doctor ordered.
Thus far Democratic efforts to score political points from the Ebola virus have faltered, with even The Washington Post giving a “Four Pinocchios” rating to the claim that evil Republican budgets are the reason we’re all going to die and the more conservative media having great fun with all the frivolous studies of feces-flinging chimpanzees and other esoteric subjects that the relevant agencies have been spending all those billions on rather fighting deadly viruses that fly in unimpeded from the third world, but the president’s photo-ops might prove more effective. They not only reassure his dwindling fan base that he’s still on the job, but also distract attention from a variety of other unsettling stories. The Islamic State terror gang’s rampage through the Middle East has spilled into the streets of Europe, the stock markets continue to slide in response to a slew of bad economic news, all those long-forgotten scandals are still under investigation, a wily unpopular executive action granting amnesty to millions of people who have already snuck into the country is still being threatened, and the kids are still grousing about the First Lady’s school lunch menus. Success stories for those Democratic candidates in flyover to tout are hard to find, too, so the making the Ebola virus a higher priority than even fund-raising and the fact we haven’t all died yet is bound to help more than another speech about billionaire-loving Republicans in front of a bunch of billionaire Democrat donors.
This might seem a cynical assessment, but the only alternative explanation is that the threat posed by the Ebola virus is as dire as the most alarmist stories suggest and that the president feels he needs to personally take control. This would cause us to panic, and we’d prefer not to.

— Bud Norman

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Politics in a Hurricane

There is less than a week to go before the most consequential presidential election in generations, and the big story is the weather.

We wouldn’t want to downplay the significance of Hurricane Sandy, which has killed 50 people, severely disrupted the lives of millions, and caused untold billions of dollars of damage to beloved and irreplaceable property, and we sympathize with all of those who have been affected by the storm. Although the weather has been quite pleasant around here lately, those of us who live on the plains know all too well how very brutal nature can be.

Still, one hopes there will be some space left in the news for the election. Sandy’s winds seem to have blown all mention of the presidential race off the front pages and out of the newscasts, and that is a shame. As horrible as the storm has been, it is not at all hyperbolic to say that a second Obama term could be even more destructive.

What little attention has been paid to the presidential election in the past few days has mostly concerned how it might be affected by the storm. Some alarmists have fretted that Obama will somehow contrive to delay the election, which is too paranoid even for our tastes, but most of the speculation has concerned which candidate is most likely to benefit from the weather.

Any break from the news that has lately seen Mitt Romney surging in the polls is thought to be beneficial to Obama, a plausible theory, but the four years’ worth of unpleasant stories won’t be immediately forgotten and are bound to resurface once the campaigns resume today. There’s also a hope among the Democrats that Obama will seem more presidential when the helpful media broadcast images of him solemnly running the government’s response to the disaster, which is also plausible, and especially walking around the rubble with whatever elected officials can find time for him, but a president’s role in these affairs is mostly limited to signing orders to spend money and there have already been countless images of that. Every natural disaster now entails the usual cries about global warming, which is still considered an issue for the Democrats, but no one seems to pay them much heed any longer.

Another theory holds that Romney could benefit if lingering bad weather, power outages, road closings, and various clean-up chores keep large numbers of voters away from the voting booths. This strikes us as reasonable, given that Romney’s voters will crawl across broken glass on their knees to vote while Obama’s supporters seem to be less enthused these days, but the areas that are most likely to still be struggling through Election Day are in states that usually vote Democratic in any circumstances. There’s also a good possibility that Obama will blunder through the hurricane, or at least say something that reminds people of their pre-storm reasons for voting against him, and a good probability that at least some of the storm victims will be without electricity or have some other valid complaint on Election Day.

Here’s hoping that all who were affected by the storm recover quickly, and that any effect the storm has on the election will benefit the challenger. It’s an ill wind that blows no good, as they say.

— Bud Norman