I admire the guts of Kaci Hickox, the Maine nurse who put herself at risk to help stop the Ebola scourge in Africa. Her idealism and that of others who do this work is so inspiring at a time when we seem to be surrounded by cynicism and lack of leadership. On her return to the US, she resisted a quarantine and stood up to fear-mongering media and politicians who panic rather than lead. I don’t hear her saying it, but clearly this is a crusade against bogus science: Creationism, climate-change denial, medical mandates that pander to politics not healing.
She stood up to New York Gov. Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Christie, both ostensible presidential candidates. When they had the chance to lead, they succumbed to hysteria. Yes, Ebola has been fast-moving, and too many mixed messages came from officials who should have known better.
We live in an extraordinarily challenging age, though, and the next Storm Sandy, terror attack, or viral menace may urk around the corner. We can’t anticipate or plan for or prevent everything, but we can learn to respond quickly, leading based on fact. That did not happen here in the New York area, of all places. We should not have forgotten the politicized defiance and the manufactured patriotism that led to both our ill-fated military involvement overseas and the dispiriting stockade that has replaced the World Trade Center. (Hence the photo above, showing One World Trade Center, the erstwhile symbol of American defiance in the face of terrorism. It has become a wan, money-sucking emblem of politics and dysfunction. Fortified against terror threats at vast taxpayer expense, this architecture of fear is surrounded by bollards and vehicle barriers.)
Hickox’s responsible protest is a tonic as we face the most dispiriting mid-term election in a long time. We’ve watched unspeakable amounts of money senselessly poured into a few races, oceans of cash that could have housed thousands or prepared hundreds of thousands for the workforce that exists today. And it’s mainly been spent in the service of obfuscation and yet more fear mongering. There is no substantive discussion of how to improve the economy (raising the minimum wage is not a strategy), nor how to raise Americans’ well being, not to mention immigration, climate change, and the sequential international quagmires America involves itself in. No new thinking of any kind has entered the conversation in spite of the abundant evidence that business as usual is not working. People on both sides of the aisle are disgusted.
Here in the Northeast, Govs. Cuomo and Christie stand unchallenged; they are moderate (Christie, except when he panders to the far right) or carefully liberal, in Cuomo’s case. In contrast to the fanaticism that engulfs much of the rest of the country, these governors could lead, offering a legacy that could persuade voters that working together to achieve common aims is better than perpetual gridlock.
Does either offer any substantive economic approach? If you think casinos are a growth strategy, then Cuomo is your man, even as the casino economy in Atlantic City implodes, meriting essentially no attention from Christie. (Nor has the rest of the flat New Jersey state economy.) Has either governor tried to reform desperately needed infrastructure spending or reform one of the many essential yet dysfunctional state bureaucracies, such as the Metropolitan Transit Agency or the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that ineptly perpetrates the Trade Center rebuilding? No.
Christie made hay among national Republicans by canceling a new commuter-rail tunnel under the Hudson, as if he was actually saving the taxpayers money instead of mortgaging the future. Now that decision is coming back to haunt him as Amtrak advises that the ancient existing tunnels must be closed over periods of years because they are in such terrible shape. There’s no additional tunnel in the offing to take up the slack, and the repairs (or, possibly the willful ignoring of the repairs) will have huge economic impact besides messing up the lives of hundreds of thousands of commuters. Cuomo touts a new Tappan Zee Bridge under construction—hardly the state’s most pressing infrastructure need. Of course, the bridge is far from fully financed.
Media reports suggest more people than ever may sit out the election. I will hold my nose and wander into my likely-to-be-empty precinct if for no other reason than to let the coasting candidates know I’m there and paying attention. And pray that some people with the guts and charisma of Kaci Hickox will run for office and shake things up.