A couple of days ago, as Kaci Hickox was on her way home to Maine, Fox News' Greta Van Susteren had the same reaction to the nurse's ordeal that many Americans probably had. Van Susteren said on Twitter that Hickox "is not a terrorist, she's a nurse." Instead of being thanked for helping treat Ebola patients, the host added, Hickox "was treated like a criminal."
Van Susteren concluded, "I blame President Obama."
It seemed like an odd conclusion. In fact, I initially thought it might be a typo. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), ignoring guidance from scientists and public-health professionals, forced Hickox into mandatory quarantine, detaining the nurse in a tent with no heat or running water, despite the fact that Hickox was asymptomatic. It was the Obama White House that urged Christie administration officials to change course, and fortunately for the detained nurse, the governor soon after agreed to release her.
So why blame Obama? Van Susteren discussed U.S. policy in addressing the public health threat with former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) -- no, really -- and elaborated on the argument.
"I don't even know if this is politics. I think it's more "asleep at the wheel." In some ways, I don't blame the governors for trying to just do something about it because, look, last March, the World Health Organization warned about Ebola. They did it again in August. And, you know, it does require leadership to set some sort of standard. This is the problem."
In other words, Van Susteren was outraged by Christie's treatment of Hickox, which is Obama's fault because the White House didn't tell Christie not to mistreat people -- or at least establish guidelines to prevent Christie from mistreating people.
This seems to come up periodically, and I think the effects on public perceptions is real. When Republicans killed background checks for gun purchases after the Sandy Hook massacre, many in the media, including Maureen Dowd, blamed Obama. When Republicans killed comprehensive immigration reform, despite broad public support, many in the media, including Ron Fournier, blamed Obama. And when Chris Christie forces a healthy nurse into a tent, this apparently is the president's fault, too.
No wonder Republicans are poised to have a good year despite a track record of failure -- the more they're responsible for wrongdoing, the less accountability they face. Indeed, it creates an awkward political dynamic in which Republicans can act irresponsibly, confident in the knowledge that the president will be blamed for the GOP's conduct.