CHARLESTON, S.C. — Politics can turn on a cough or a sneeze.
One day, we’re asking ourselves which presidential candidate we’d rather drink a beer with or, these days, which Democrat can defeat Donald Trump?
The next, we’re wondering whether we’ll live to see Election Day.
A friend of mine chooses her candidate by asking herself: Which of these people can I picture sitting across from Vladimir Putin? In other words, who’s tough, savvy, experienced and knowledgeable enough to negotiate successfully with a former KGB agent?
As of this week, with the coronavirus picking up speed and global markets dipping in response, voters may need to ask a different set of questions in their calculations. Who would they trust to manage a pandemic?
We’re not panicking yet, but increased media coverage and the White House’s delay in anticipating and organizing preemptive measures could bring us closer to a real sense of danger and fear. Adding to concerns is this: Someone in Northern California has caught the virus who hasn’t traveled to a place where it is already spreading or had contact with someone already diagnosed with the illness.
Additionally, a whistleblower has charged that Health and Human Services staffers were “improperly deployed” to greet Americans being repatriated after traveling in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak. In her complaint, the whistleblower alleged that “appropriate steps were not taken to quarantine, monitor, or test (the workers) during their deployment and upon their return home.”
Meanwhile, President Trump’s designation of Vice President Pence as his coronavirus “czar” has created an uproar both because of Pence’s presumed lack of qualifications and because he has ordered that all virus-related information will be filtered through his office. While this may sound extreme, there’s some logic in trying to ensure that all information is consistent and accurate.
This isn’t to say that Pence is the best person for the job, plainly. But the White House may be the least relevant component of our present defenses against this bug. Far more important are the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where scientists are working overtime to develop more-effective tests and a vaccine. Clinical trials are underway on a vaccine, but we’re a year away from an inoculation for the general public, according to Francis Collins, head of NIH.
In an “Influencers” interview with Yahoo Finance editor in chief Andy Serwer in early February, Collins said that both the CDC and NIH are in daily communication with each other, as well as with the White House — several times a day. Also, he said, scientists from both agencies know each other well and work together with a long-standing agility.
Needless to say, Trump, by his belated attention to the virus, has handed his Democratic opponents an epic issue. Some candidates have wasted no time. Joe Biden wants to send our scientists to China. Volunteers? Elizabeth Warren wants to redirect funding from Trump’s “racist” border wall and use it to combat the virus. (The NIH already has a $41.46 billion budget for 2020, a 6 percent increase from last year.)
Mike Bloomberg, hailing his crisis management and health experience as New York’s post-9/11 mayor, has hammered Trump at every campaign stop in advance of Super Tuesday.
Already, Bloomberg’s campaign has released an emergency preparedness plan, and has placed virus-related ads in all 50 states. Talk about organization.
Likewise, Warren, who can’t have left anyone wondering whether she can “get it done,” seems to have a plan for everything. It’s easy to forget amid the mudslinging and noise that Warren, while a Harvard law professor, proposed and created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Every crisis changes priorities and perspectives. Suddenly, the soothing tones and clear thinking of a Pete Buttigieg seem less important than proven experience managing big problems on a large scale. Much can happen between now and November, obviously.
But if Americans start getting sick in large numbers, or worse, there will be little affection for an administration that wasn’t prepared.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post and can be contacted at email@example.com. Her column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.