It's Not Your Senator's Job to Stop Ebola

To the endless list of inane things candidates accuse one another of, we can now add this: My opponent has not done enough to stop Ebola! Or actually, in this case it's local media, and the politician in question is Pat Roberts; but Roberts' opponent is picking up on it (and may have been the source of the story, since a nearly identical report appeared on a second local news station):

On the stump and in television interviews, Senator Pat Roberts has taken aim at the White House's response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, and in the United States, including calling for a travel ban to effected [sic] West African nations.

But when Roberts had a chance, as a member of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, to attend a special joint hearing with top public health officials briefing lawmakers on the virus and the fight against it—he was a no-show.

If only Pat Roberts had been at that hearing, we'd all be safe. There are few criticisms more meaningless and yet more persistent than "you didn't attend enough hearings." The fact is, most congressional hearings are incredibly dull and accomplish very little. There are exceptions, of course, but everybody cooperates in creating the fiction that attending a hearing is "doing" something, when it really isn't.

For the record, Roberts is peddling his own Ebola nonsense, encouraging everyone to panic over a disease that has to date killed exactly one person in America ("We are facing a potential national health emergency that could overwhelm our health care system, threaten the economy, and place national security at risk if not handled properly," he said yesterday). It appears that like many a politician who finds himself unexpectedly fighting for his job, Roberts has turned himself into a rancid demagogue.  

In any case, my point is this: there are some important issues, even matters of public policy, that elected officials neither do nor should have any but the smallest impact on. If you live in Kansas, whether Pat Roberts showed up to a hearing on Ebola ought to be about 4,299 on the list of important considerations in your vote.

Yet not only are candidates going to try to find ways to criticize each other over Ebola, the media are going to try to find ways to inject the issue into the campaign as well. Here's what I'd like to hear a candidate say when asked about this:

"I don't have an Ebola policy, because I'm running to be a legislator. It's the job of legislators to do things like set budgets, but when there's an actual outbreak of an infectious disease somewhere in the world, we should step back and let the people who actually know what they're doing handle things. In this case, that's the Centers for Disease Control. This is why we have a CDC in the first place, because if we were relying on politicians to keep us safe from infectious diseases, we'd really be screwed."

You can call that an abdication of responsibility, but it isn't. Even if Congress has an important role to play in setting policy priorities for agencies like the CDC, once there's a potential crisis occuring, the idea that a bunch of yahoos like Pat Roberts should be determining the details of our response is absurd.