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This week saw the government's response to the threat of Ebola, more campaigning in the final stretch before Election Day, and drama in a key governor's race over a fan.
To talk about it all, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away tonight.
Let's talk about Ebola first.
Mark, we heard the doctor and the head of the nurses association say at the top of the program people shouldn't be alarmed about Ebola. But is the fear getting out of control in this country?
The fear is real. The Washington Post/ABC poll, two out of three Americans fear that there could be an Ebola epidemic in the country. Four out of 10 are very worried or somewhat worried that someone, either themselves or someone close to them will contract the disease.
So there's a real concern. And, as most dangers, it brings out both the best and the worst in people. And I think we're seeing plenty of that right now.
Out of control?
Well, I do think it's understandable. It's a scary disease. And there were some fumbles in the initial response.
By the way, I meant the fear. I don't mean the disease.
Right. But the fear, I think, it is not irrational in this case.
It is overdone, to some extent. We do not have an outbreak. We have a few incidents. The outbreak in West Africa, we do not have that. We know how to control it. The procedures have been there since the '70s. Ebola has been controlled in various outbreaks. And we know the disease itself is not as infectious early as it is late.
So it's a real threat to health care workers, which we have seen, not so much the general public even in those cases. But there's one area where we don't have enough fear. And that's what's happening in West Africa, where the CDC is talking about the possibility of 5,000 to 10,000 new infections a week by the end of the year.
You could be — have real threats to the economic, social and political stability of countries in West Africa, which could dramatically spread the disease. If we want panic, that's where productive panic would be employed.
But you do hear officials saying that on a regular basis. We need to keep a focus on what's going on in West Africa.
The focus right now in this country is election. It's two-and-a-half weeks away. And the remedy has become cancel all flights from West Africa. That has become the mantra, quite frankly, of Republican and even some Democratic candidates.
Which doesn't solve that problem.
It doesn't solve any problem and probably compounds the problem.
What we do see, Judy — and there is a parallel to 9/11, when we saw 343 firefighters walk into the jaws of death and the fires of hell, simply because they were — that was their duty to save fellow human beings who were in those trapped — trapped in those buildings.
And I think Nina Pham has become almost the face of the hero of this.
The first nurse what was diagnosed…
The nurse who has contracted Ebola herself.
But, I mean, they assume the risk. This is a critical care nurse. These are health care providers — terrible term, health care provider.
But these are people who actually put themselves on the line to help strangers they don't know, their knowledge, their careers, themselves, not for money, not for power, but just for humanity. And I think it's quite — that is the most admirable development in this whole terrible panorama.
A lot of accusations flying around.
Michael, do you see this as an issue in the November election?
Well, I think it adds to a vague general air of dysfunction, which probably benefits Republicans. It makes it harder for Democrats to drive their issues. We're not talking about inequality. We're talking about Ebola.
But I have to say that people who directly politicize this issue may well, in my view, be demonstrating their unfitness for office, OK? This is not a symbol for other things. This is important in and of itself in a central federal role. We need to learn from mistakes. We need to give the government the ability to learn from mistakes, because they're in that process, instead of highly politicizing what really is a very serious matter.
I know it's hard right before an election not to inject this into campaign commercials. And it's happened on right and left, but I think that's a serious mistake.
And — but you're saying that's happened.
It has happened.
It has. It has happened in a couple of tragic instances.
I do think it's a case that it will be a factor in this election, Judy, not only for the reasons that Michael cited, but if you think about it, the Democrats have had two really good pieces of news in the last several weeks, the unemployment rate at a new low, people returning to work, and then this week, the deficit the lowest point in seven years.
But it's totally eclipsed by Ebola and ISIS. And these are two issues, national security and foreign policy, which the Ebola crisis has taken on in many instances, where they have tried to tie it into illegal immigration, some Republicans have, where the Democrats do not score well and Republicans have an advantage.
So I think it is an issue that Republicans are going to drum from here on in.
just quickly to both of you, the president's choice of Ron Klain, former chief of staff to Vice Presidents Gore and Biden, our guests at the top of the program, infectious disease expert and the head of the nurses association, said they think it's fine to pick somebody who is a government expert, rather than a public health expert.
What's your view?
Well, I don't think I'm in that camp.
This is treating a problem as though it is a messaging and communications or a management problem within the White House. This is a command-and-control problem on the ground in Liberia and other places, where supplies are not getting through, our aid is not getting there.
We need someone in the David Petraeus or Colin Powell camp who has respect in the military, respect in the global health community, emergency response experience. I think that they're viewing this role in too limited a way, and the need is greater right now.
I mean, Ron Klain has demonstrated credentials, no question, Vice President Gore, Vice President Biden and in between.
But, to me, it shows how many few really towering figures there are left in American public life. Michael named Colin Powell. but I don't know. I mean, it seems that the generation has passed. But I think you need a figure of command and who commands respect outside.
Ron Klain, for all he's done, is not well-known either in the medical world or really in the international world.
All right, we talked about the election. We — we're two-and-a-half weeks away, Michael. What does the landscape look like in the Senate? We started out 10 or 12 races watching closely. Where does it stand?
Well, if you look at the RealClearPolitics summaries, Republicans are now ahead in eight of the top 11 most disputed Senate races.
That doesn't mean they will win them all. It just means — but they also have momentum in those races, if you look at the polling compared to September. And Democrats are starting to reposition in the House and other places their funding away from aggressive races against Republicans and towards defensive races for incumbents.
That's a bad sign. So, I think this is going in a Republican direction. The landscape, the field on which this is being played is favorable to Republicans right now for a variety of reasons.
What is your gut telling you?
Well, I mean, I think Democrats now are hoping, quite frankly, that a couple of races they hadn't expected to be in play will be in play, namely Kansas, which had been a safe Republican seat, South Dakota, which is a safe Republican seat, or acknowledged that there was going to be a safe Republican seat, held by a Democrat, Tim Johnson, now retiring, and in Georgia, where Michelle Nunn is showing strength for that open seat with Saxby Chambliss.
But you have got seven seats being defended by Democrats. Six of them are in states that Mitt Romney carried by 14 percent or more. And these seats were all won by Democrats six years ago, when Barack Obama was getting the highest percentage any Democratic presidential candidate had gotten in the past 50 years.
So they were elected in a good Democratic year. And this doesn't look like a good Democratic year, so I think they're putting the champagne back on ice right now at Democratic headquarters.
Not friendly territory…
… for the Democrats.
We haven't talked much in the last weeks about the governor's races. But there are, what, about 10 of them, we are told, could change parties. One of them — and they're getting a lot of attention now that we're getting close.
One in particular, Michael, is the Florida governor's race, which there was a debate a couple of nights ago between the incumbent Republican Governor Rick Scott and his challenger, former Republican, now Democrat, Charlie Crist. And it was a debate. And it was all about a fan that Governor — former Governor Crist wanted under his lectern up on stage.
That's become a big story.
Yes. No, it's…
And we have got a picture of the fan.
OK. There it is.
And the fact that Governor Scott, it took him six or seven minutes to show up.
Seven minutes, yes.
I think that Governor Scott was in the right when it came to the rules, and the organizers pointed that out, but it really doesn't matter.
Any candidate who is complaining about the rules doesn't really look good. You don't want to look rattled in a debate. It's kind of the James Bond rule. You want to look cool under fire in these things. And it didn't really work out for him. But if this decides the Florida governor's race, God help us.
Charlie Crist is not only a former Republican governor, former Wake Forest quarterback, a — looks like he always came off the pages of "Gentleman's Quarterly," never a hair out of place. Looks like a million bucks.
Of course, I think the two of you always look…
This is a strikingly handsome man, and he stays cool and has always — he's been very open about this through his entire career. In fact, it's in his own memoir, he writes about it.
He stayed cool in that torrid…
… tropical state of Florida by having a fan with him under the lectern.
It's not like he's got somebody giving him answers or something.
And so Rick Scott, I thought, looked not only petty, but small, and not concerned with the people of Florida, but whether Charlie — Charlie Crist had a fan.
I thought, quite frankly, it was fantastic.
And I think something…
You didn't say that.
I did say that. And I apologize for it.
But, I mean, is there — just quickly, in 30 seconds, is there a lesson about American politics in all of this?
Yes. I think Americans like people to keep the rules, but they hate when people complain about others not keeping the rules.
I think that's true.
But I would also say this, that one great thing about debates is they are the one time in campaigns where things are unstructured and unpredicted.
Yes. That's true.
And I thought this revealed something about Rick Scott which wasn't compelling or appealing.
Well, there's — this is always unstructured and it's always terrific.
Mark Shields, Michael Gerson, thank you both.
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