Cal Thomas: Americans can handle the truth

  • By Cal Thomas
  • Monday, October 6, 2014 8:45pm
  • Opinion

The Ebola virus is not a threat, but ISIS is. That’s what some of our leaders tell us. Should we believe them? Do they have a track record for truth-telling that would lend them credibility?

ISIS hasn’t (yet) invaded America, but Ebola has. We are bombing ISIS in Syria, but treating Ebola here as an interloper that can be controlled. There is nothing to worry about. No need to panic. Pay no attention to the disease behind the curtain. Experts are in charge and we must always trust our experts. Do you? I sure don’t.

Sometimes it seems the priority of our elected officials and experts is self-protection rather than the protection of the public, which they are supposed to serve. We only know what they tell us. We presume they have access to accurate information, but we only get their version of the truth.

Government officials testify before congressional committees and either deny responsibility for their own incompetence and malfeasance, blame others, hide behind the all-purpose “mistakes were made,” or take the Fifth. A few accept “responsibility,” but only in rare cases does anyone lose their job, unless their transgressions are so glaring they can’t be ignored, like Julia Pierson, former director of the Secret Service. If politicians and bureaucrats protected us the way they protect themselves, there would be no need to fear Ebola, ISIS or anything else.

In the case of Ebola, our leaders want us to remain unconcerned. They have it under control, they say. And yet infected people keep popping up. Not to worry, they say. We can trust West African nations to examine those leaving their countries, even though it appears we can’t. Thomas Eric Duncan managed to get out of Liberia and travel to the U.S. with relative ease.

The dumbest analysis so far came recently on CNN. Appearing on “Anderson Cooper 360,” Ebola “expert” (there’s that word again) David Quammen argued against quarantines and banning flights from West Africa where thousands have died from Ebola and thousands more are infected.

Here’s Quammen: “You can’t isolate neighborhoods, you can’t isolate nations. It doesn’t work … how dare we turn our backs on Liberia given the fact that this is a country that was founded in the 1820s, 1830s because of American slavery. We have a responsibility to stay connected to them and help them see this through.”

We are “staying connected.” The Obama administration may send 4,000 troops to Liberia and American health workers are on the ground there.

Public health should not be held hostage to any other consideration. The practice of quarantine — separating the sick from the healthy — goes back as far as the year 549 A.D. when, in the midst of an outbreak of bubonic plague, the Byzantine emperor Justinian enacted a law meant to isolate sick people from regions infested with plague. I’m sure leaders back then told the public not to worry, that they had everything under control. Did people trust their leaders then any more than we trust our leaders today? I doubt it.

Failure to tell the truth about a whole range of things has contributed to public distrust, even cynicism, about government.

Take for instance the latest unemployment figures spun by the Obama administration. We are told a 5.9 percent unemployment rate and the addition of 248,000 nonfarm payroll jobs last month proves the economic recovery continues. Left out of most news coverage is a labor force participation rate of 62.7 percent, the lowest it has been since the 1970s and down from 66.1 percent in January 2004, according to Labor Department figures.

Former ABC News anchor Ted Koppel once said: “Our society finds truth too strong a medicine to digest undiluted. In its purest form, truth is not a polite tap on the shoulder. It is a howling reproach.”

Our leaders underestimate the ability and desire of the public to respond to the truth with sober minds. We can handle the truth, if our government will only tell it to us.

Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribune.com.

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