Friday, November 04, 2005

The politics of panic: President Bush and avian flu

On Tuesday, to quote the Times, " President Bush announced... that he would ask Congress for $7.1 billion to prepare the nation for the possibility of a worldwide outbreak of deadly flu." Here's how he put it: "Our country has been given fair warning of this danger to our homeland and time to prepare. It's my responsibility as the president to take measures now to protect the American people... A flu pandemic would have global consequences, so no nation can afford to ignore this threat, and every nation has responsibilities to detect and stop its spread."

Senator Frist, a hack and possibly a crook, referred to Bush's "bold and decisive leadership," but this was clearly an attempt by the president to look presidential and to change the subject yet again after a particularly disastrous period of his generally disastrous presidency -- if Alito can't completely flatten Katrina, Plamegate, Iraq, and dreadfully low approval ratings, maybe manufacturing a massive threat will (and if it can't be terrorism, why not some mysterious virus?). Plus, he's already known as a big spender -- what's $7.1 billion more?

I've previously written about (the alleged pandemic of) avian flu here and here (and the dog flu here). Avian flu is real. Is the threat? Maybe. And maybe it will ultimately become a pandemic. But doesn't this over-reaction have the stink of desperation and manipulation about it? (What, from the Bush Administration? Would they do that?) After all, consider this "medical examiner" at Slate: "Americans tend to pour their fears into dangers that, however real, pose a relatively low risk for any individual—like terrorism, anthrax, smallpox, and now the avian flu..."

More: "[T]he science behind all the worry is questionable. It rests on the unproven claim that the avian flu will develop exactly like the strain that caused the flu pandemic of 1918... The current bird flu, however, has a different molecular structure than the 1918 bug. And though it has infected millions of birds, there is no direct evidence that it is about to mutate into a form that would transmit from human to human. In isolated cases, food handlers in Asia have gotten sick, but that doesn't mean that a wildly lethal mutation is about to occur... Even if the worst-case scenario does occur and the virus mutates, there is no current indication that it will spread the way the Spanish flu did in 1918."

What does it say about President Bush and his disastrous presidency that he is linking his fortunes in part to the politics of panic? Health officials around the world may be sounding the alarm, but, once again, he is misleading the American people.

Fear sells. Don't buy it.

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  • It isn't the Bush administration that first warned about this issue (the WHO has long been concerned.)
    Bush is reacting; he is rather late to notice this problem. Democrats like Senator Obama were emphasizing the importance of preparing for avian flu long before Bush even mentioned the issue.
    Bush and Frist are idiots, but it would be an absolute shame if the federal government did not prepare for this. The problem is not that they are publicly discussing the issue, it is that they are preparing for it in the wrong way.
    As for the statement about "low-risk dangers"--for a long time, people thought the collapse of the New Orleans levee system was a "low-risk danger."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:23 AM  

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