Critical Condition

Slow-Motion Katrina?

Larry Sabato has called he government’s response to the H1N1 flu a “slow motion hurricane Katrina.”  The Weekly Standard has characterized the Obama administration as “swine flu Democrats,” referring to the Pentagon’s odd decision to inoculate Guantanamo Bay detainees against H1N1 at a time when we are experiencing a national vaccine shortfall.  These emerging critiques, which are likely to increase in the days ahead, raise the question of how critical to be of government at this point in their flu response, and the obvious follow up, which is whether it is appropriate to use H1N1 response problems as an argument against Democratic health reform proposals. 

There is certainly a case to be made that the federal government is ineffective at certain activities–execution of a strategy at a local level and delivery of treatment to individuals–and that these weaknesses are reasons the government has problems with both health care delivery and certain aspects of pandemic preparedness.

As the same time, I’m loath to politicize this issue, as we’re all in the same boat.  We don’t want Democrats to refuse to listen to instructions from CDC in a Republican administration, or Republicans to ignore Homeland Security under President Obama.  In addition, the federal government is the entity best able to monitor outbreaks, stockpile countermeasures, and spread the appropriate messages to our citizenry.  

From my perspective, then, I think it is appropriate to note that federal ineffectiveness in a variety of areas, including aspects of pandemic preparedness, could foreshadow problems with expanding government’s role in the provision in health care.  In addition, if an administration makes decisions based clearly on political considerations rather than the public good, that is also worthy of criticism.  My hope is that we as a society could establish some zones of propriety for mainstream political debate, at least in times of crisis, without wholesale rejection of government recommendations when one’s party is out of power, or knee jerk criticism of governmental actions designed just to score political points.