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Ebola Quarantine Policy as Libertarianism

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Privatization of the mind: in the face of a viral disease with the potential for (i.e., capable of) spreading to pandemic proportions, anything that smacks of the communal good trumping individuals’ presumed rights is anathema, lest it Collectivize America and raise the Specter of Russia and China. Cuomo and Christie, to their everlasting shame, backed down from common-sense policies of health management in addressing contagious disease. America is choking in its rigidified IDEOLOGICAL fear, here, a ramped up anticommunism evolved into counterterrorism, acutely alert to, and necessarily screening out, anything that opposes and refers back ultimately to what we might call Market Fundamentalism, an inadequate designation for the pathologies of unrestrained capitalism. A mouthful? Sure. But how else sound the tocsin of capitulation to a political leadership, viz., the Obama administration, so profoundly corrupt in wanting approval that it uses the flimsy pretext of, “We don’t want to discourage health workers from going to Africa to treat Ebola patients,” as cover for: We are the prideful, Exceptional nation and people who represent an uncontaminated capitalism in a hostile world against forces (Obama personally linked Ebola, terrorism, and Russia as threats to the Homeland—a xenophobic/ethnocentric term if ever there was one) whose sole purpose is to do us in.

This hodge-podge of planned confusion emanating from the White House and forcing the Cuomo-Christie retreat (singly and together, never much for articulating resistance to American Corporatism, i.e., fascism) places the people’s health hostage to an absolutist Individualism that plays well from Wall Street to Peoria while defying the essence of quarantine policy throughout the ages: Safeguarding the public’s health is NOT a trespass on civil liberties! Even ACLU falls into line, fearful of the avalanche of right-wing thinking in America which, as in the case of the nurse temporarily confined to an isolation setting in New Jersey, questions any restraint on human conduct as the most heinous of constitutional crimes. Good. Fine. Those of us—and I admit to being practically alone on this—who see America as the principal threat to world peace, as swimming in a sea of War Crimes, as going through the widest disparity of income and wealth in American history (The Times reported recently on a $90M condo in NYC), believe the nation properly deserves its fate wherein irredeemable stubbornness and arrogance on behalf of the Property Right has sunk political consciousness to rock-bottom self-indulgence, ready to fight the world over its arrogation of unilateral global hegemony.

I commented yesterday on Putin’s wise address to the Valdai Discussion Club, and was glad to see that CP published its text for all to judge; his emphasis therein on a “new version of interdependence,” not with Ebola in mind, but the larger breakdown of World Civilization, nevertheless implicitly sets priorities right in a common struggle against the fallacies of a unipolar world, and by extension, in microcosm, the politicized, irresponsible conduct/dogma of individualistic grandeur incapable of protecting the rights of the community. Communal rights writ large make up an harmonious world, something America regards as anathema. Perhaps Ebola will somehow be a blessing in disguise (were it not for the myriad innocent victims!) teaching us that antecedent principles of human welfare must trump the visceral opportunism we are seeing today. By all means, from governors to CDC officials to, now, the media, all of whom have bought into the Free-Enterprise racket, retreat in the face of White House pressure is understandable. (Why not, you are all wallowing in the same ideological manure pile?) Meanwhile, Obama and Company are dancing to the music of the capitalistic spheres and have left public-health considerations far behind.

Ebola might well be contained under the present regimen, but the regimen—voluntary, non-institutional quarantine—may be as deadly as the virus itself, or at least inextricably tied to it, from the standpoint of all sorts of diseases, medical and political, coming down the pike. In times of plague, whether potential or real, just as in times of privatization run amuck, strewing bodies around in another form of misery, the defense of the community, at whatever level, from local to global, takes precedence in any sort of moral order that values human life above mere wealth and power. But of course, when wealth and power become equated with moral order, what I am saying is pure nonsense. Looking around now, the overwhelming consensus in America is that it is. Putin’s “new version of interdependence” will find little favor here.

My New York Times Comment on Matt Flegenheimer, et. al., “Under Pressure, Cuomo Says Ebola Quarantines Can Be Spent at Home,” (Oct. 27), follows:

Obama’s opposition to the mandatory quarantine smacks of political correctness, a play to the Libertarian crowd. Of course, sound science MAY be in his favor; yet Dr. Spencer’s case suggests otherwise, particularly, even with the best of intentions, one cannot fully know about the incubation stage until too late.

Why the sudden concern about mandatory quarantine when Obama personally authorizes drone assassination on a frequent basis, or other signs of Executive indifference to civil liberties? Sheer hypocrisy, if not worse–the deliberate effort to appear humane to the world as a p.r. stunt, meanwhile potentially putting the American public at risk.

More phony politicization of important matters at the hands of this administration. Should outbreaks occur, Obama should be handed his walking papers–a crass politician indifferent to everything but his own public image.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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