Where is the GOP’s John Wayne when you need him? Not, apparently, in Texas.
When Ebola-infected Thomas Duncan landed in Dallas, he instantly became a deadly international health threat to U.S. citizens and America’s frontline health workers. The Liberian national became the face here for a growing pandemic that has already killed thousands of Africans and is decimating the societal fabric and governmental institutions of three countries in West Africa.
Understandably, the man’s diagnosis sparked a rash of panic throughout the country about a horrific, mysterious and incurable disease that Americans had only heard about from far away lands or in horror films.
That is, until Thomas Duncan arrived in Dallas.
Suddenly, anyone who had been to the hospital that turned Duncan away became worried. Everybody who had flown through Dallas/Fort Worth Airport became concerned. Soon, anybody flying anywhere got nervous. Distrust and fear bred further distrust and fear.
It was one of those moments where true leadership shines.
Someone who understands the fears and distrust steps forward, analyzes the problem coherently and reaches swift, sensible solutions. That leader makes sure the threat is taken seriously, all precautions are made and the public is protected.
It was the a moment perfectly choreographed for Texas Governor Rick Perry to head for the sirens, grab a bullhorn and take charge.
Mr. Perry could have sauntered onto the scene in his cowboy boots and slapped down the so-called Centers for Disease Control as incoherent, incompetent and failing to take the threat seriously enough. He could have shushed down President Obama, who is still unclear about whether you can catch Ebola or not by riding on a public bus with an infected person.
Mr. Perry could have hired the best epidemiologists and virologists in the world to ensure that Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital followed the most stringent guidelines to protect the brave and heroic doctors and nurses treating Duncan.
Mr. Perry could have used the opportunity to prove that while massive federal bureaucracies are slow, unwieldy and inept, smaller state governments can act swiftly and competently and are far more answerable to people. Mr. Perry could have illustrated the clear point that healthcare in the hands of federal bureaucrats is a dangerous thing.
Mr. Perry also could have used his deep knowledge and long history wrestling with border control to make abundantly clear that deadly pandemics such as Ebola are one of the most pressing reasons countries have borders.
The nations of Africa respect their own borders, especially when it comes to Ebola. Mexico respects its own borders. Only the United States under current management believes that its own borders are meaningless.
Mr. Perry very well may not have the authority to simply stop flights from Ebola countries into his state. But he sure could press the issue and force President Obama’s hand to shut down travel until fail-proof procedures are in place to ensure nobody else with Ebola boards a plane for the United States.
Literally, the federal government has more stringent protections for dogs traveling into the country than they have for humans. Good luck getting a dog remotely suspected of rabies or screwworm past all the vets and quarantines and paperwork into the USA. But a human carrying the Ebola virus from Liberia, come right on in!
It really could have been Rick Perry’s moment. Unfortunately, he missed it.
First, he failed to take immediate charge in his own home state. Then he sided with President Obama against any kind of travel ban. Then he flew off to Europe.
While the governor was in Europe showing off his very European new spectacles, Thomas Duncan died and two nurses in Texas became infected with Ebola.
At least, however, by the time he returned home, he had flip-flopped and now supports a ban on travel from Ebola countries. Perhaps Rick Perry learned a thing or two from those swash-buckling, straight-shooting Europeans. Somewhere, John Wayne is turning over in his grave.
Charles Hurt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @charleshurt.