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Playing the Ebola blame game badly

President Obama's critics are clearly outraged by his handling of the Ebola threat. It's less clear why they're so upset.
President Barack Obama makes a statement about Ebola after a conference call with USAID workers in West Africa Oct. 28, 2014 prior to his departure from the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)
President Barack Obama makes a statement about Ebola after a conference call with USAID workers in West Africa Oct. 28, 2014 prior to his departure from the White House in Washington, D.C.
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.
As for efforts to address Ebola in general, I can't help but notice the Republican complaints seem a little vague. The right is convinced Obama was wrong, but they haven't said much about the president's specific missteps.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is calling President Barack Obama's initial response to Ebola "incompetent." "It looked very incompetent to begin with, and that fueled fears that may not be justified," Bush said during a discussion at Vanderbilt University, according to The Tennessean. "And now you have states that are legitimately acting on their concerns, creating a lot more confusion than is necessary." Bush said the president was not "clear and concise" about his plans to combat Ebola, and described an incident in which anthrax was mailed in 2001 to a Florida-based tabloid, The National Equirer, during his time in office as an example of a better approach to addressing public fears. "We gave people a sense of calm, what the plan was," Bush said. "We talked in plainspoken English. We were totally engaged."

I realize taking pot shots from the sidelines is easy, but I've yet to hear Republicans say specifically where the president fell short. Jeb Bush said he helped give people "a sense of calm" in Florida in 2001. Isn't Obama doing exactly that now? Bush thinks the response "looked" incompetent, but was it?
The president's response began in earnest back in August, deploying health officials to West Africa, and here in the United States, only two people have contracted the virus -- and as of yesterday, they're both healthy and out of the hospital.
All things considered, hasn't the Obama administration's response been pretty effective? I realize it's an election season and one of the parties is committed to scaring the bejesus out of the public, but it looks like the president is helping lead a global response that's producing encouraging results.
Obama told the public yesterday, "America in the end is not defined by fear. That's not who we are. America is defined by possibility. And when we see a problem and we see a challenge, then we fix it. We don't just react based on our fears. We react based on facts and judgment and making smart decisions. That's how we have built this country and sustained this country and protected this country. That's why America has defined progress -- because we're not afraid when challenges come up."
Here's hoping his detractors were listening.