Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Chris Christie and the Nurse

Last week while he was campaigning for a local candidate in New Jersey, Christie quoted a disillusioned voter who complained, "We used to control events, and now it seems we are controlled by events."

This was a few days before he held a press conference with Governor Cuomo to announce a 21 day mandatory quarantine for any health workers returning from West Africa. This policy makes sense only on an emotional level. It makes us feel we are in fact controlling events. But medical professionals and scientists, as well as the White House, say this is overkill and counterproductive. Overkill because Ebola is only infectious from a person who is exhibiting symptoms, such as fever. Counterproductive because the most effective way to keep Ebola from spreading to the United States is to stem the plague in West Africa, which will require hundreds of volunteer health workers to travel to and from those countries.

Now maybe the governors of NY and NJ were won over by the above arguments within three days of their first quarantined health worker. Or maybe they just were unlucky enough to have their first test case to be Kaci Hickox.

For the record, Hickox did not have any symptoms. A scanner in the airport thought she was flush. No human ever took her temperature until she arrived at University Hospital in Newark, where she was diagnosed with not having a fever. We've got another 2 1/2 weeks before we know for sure that Hickox was not infected when she was in Africa. Even if she turns out to have Ebola, the logic of closely monitoring people until symptoms appear, short of mandatory 21 quarantine, is still intact.

But Christie is following a different kind of logic. One hopes that his quote about the necessity of controlling events is merely election season bluster, and will give way to more a reasoned, limited-- dare I say conservative--governing style--both in his remaining years as our Governor and, potentially, as our president.  

But I doubt it. Ever since Sandy and the 2012 election, Christie has repeatedly put forth one criteria for his political viability: his leadership skills. The problem--as this Obama NJ voter has noticed--is that he often defines his leadership skills against Obama's using situations that Obama, and not Christie, has faced. It is extremely easy to claim that people will simply bend to his will after they hear him say "Because I say so"  when he never actually has to say "Because I say so." It is extremely easy to say that Putin, or ISIS, or Ebola would listen if it were only someone of Christie's leadership caliber shaking his fist at them all.

The most likely result of this style of leadership, as actually practiced by an executive after an election, is someone who spends a great deal of time paying attention and fretting about the 24 hour news cycle, someone who makes bold, rash pronouncements to prove that he is shaping that news cycle come what may, and someone who refuses to admit mistakes when it becomes obvious to all that he acted rashly.

This is on display this week, and continues to be as Christie is still arguing that Hickox was symptomatically ill last Friday when the facts show she was not. Christie's schtick may be wearing thin even for an election season.           

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