Why “Obama’s War” might have nothing to do with AfPak, Iran, or Iraq…
And Dick Cheney thinks he knows something about terror. Republican terror threats are for sissies. Even Tom Ridge is willing to admit … some of the time … that they kinda-sorta-maybe were overblown. (Ridge‘s now-you-see-em-now-you-don’t revelations have permanently damaged him. Either he screwed up back in the day by caving to pressure to elevate the ...
And Dick Cheney thinks he knows something about terror. Republican terror threats are for sissies. Even Tom Ridge is willing to admit … some of the time … that they kinda-sorta-maybe were overblown. (Ridge‘s now-you-see-em-now-you-don’t revelations have permanently damaged him. Either he screwed up back in the day by caving to pressure to elevate the threat level or he has screwed up by misrepresenting the situation in his memoirs or he screwed up most recently by caving to pressure to back off the “explosive” admissions that he thought would sell enough books to pay for his retirement.)
But Democrats have all the luck. They didn’t want a national terror threat. They don’t even like talking about the “war on terror” (most of the time). But they’ve got a doozy brewing that makes the country’s post-9/11 post traumatic stress disorder induced inclination to look for a terrorist behind every potted palm look mild by comparison.
Yesterday, I walked across the campus of Columbia University in New York and amid the light blue and white balloons and banners fluttering in welcome of new students, amid the registration tables and the orientation sign-up booths, every so often there were large Purell dispensers. No explanatory signs. No instructions, just big honking containers of disinfectant crying out to every passerby to stop and make that next handshake a safer one. The absence of signs made it all the more ominous. Signs weren’t necessary as they once were along highways when people were asked to call in and report “suspicious activity.”
While this threat was as hard to see as was the one that had the Bushies in a swivet, you didn’t need Karl Rove’s classified Ouija board to magnify this one, a microscope would do.
The other day a dean at a major DC-area academic institution indicated that he and others on his team had spent much of the summer developing the distance learning protocols they would employ if H1N1 virus required them to shut down their campus and send everyone home. At around the same time, I received an email from the college one of my daughters attends explaining just how they would tackle swine flu. Today, the city of New York, a city now reporting that perhaps 800,000 of its citizens caught the disease in the first phase of its appearance, announced a new set of guidelines for how they would handle the disease as it appeared again this flu season.
Estimates suggest that perhaps as many as 90,000 Americans could die of the disease this next time around. That may be high. Estimates of the severity of this pandemic have been inconsistent and fortunately, thus far the illness has not taken an extreme toll. But the nervousness is palpable. For example, take this CBS story of a school district in Long Island that has banned touching for the foreseeable future (of course, just after my daughters leave high school is when they decide to ban touching!)
Chest bumps. High fives. Hugs and handshakes. Glen Cove Middle School students Ali Slaughter and Hannah Seltzer say that’s what friends do on the first day of school. But when students in the Nassau community return to school next week, the superintendent will be urging abstinence. Everyone from the tiniest tots to the biggest high school football players will be asked to limit skin-on-skin contact in an attempt to prevent the spread of swine flu when it re-emerges this fall.
Thus far, it seems authorities worldwide have responded swiftly to the pandemic and, even if it seems like they are over-reacting, their caution is not misplaced. Flu annually kills 250,000-500,000 people worldwide each year, 36,000 in the United States. And that’s not when a particularly virulent strain comes along, such as the 1918 pandemic that killed perhaps 50-100 million people and infected perhaps 500 million.
The 9/11 attacks claimed fewer people than would die worldwide of flu on the average weekend. So, it is quite clear that the current invisible threat is a lot worse than the old invisible threat. But there is another way to look at all this. First, it casts the current health care debate in a different light. Having 50 million people who don’t have health insurance (thus more reluctant to see a doctor and more inclined to seek free emergency room treatment) puts everyone else at greater risk. Having hospitals teetering near insolvency and cutting back services does likewise. When you think about the real threats to our homeland security a broken health system (especially in the context of the threats of not just epidemics but biological or WMD attacks) may be at the top of the list.
Next, if this epidemic gets as severe as some people worry, it’ll very quickly overshadow Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and the financial crisis. It’ll become Obama’s war and, absent a crisp, orderly, sustained response, his Katrina. There’s no sign that’s happening yet. It may not rise to that level. The response may be excellent and it could be one of the decisive factors in the 2010 elections in either case. But for the first time in years, a nation that has come to view threat level Orange as normal has started to get edgy over something bigger. Tell me Mr. Ridge, what color should we use to indicate to everyone that the threat could be real?
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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