The ruckus over Ebola would be funny if the stakes weren’t so high.  Here’s a disease that presents a lethal threat to the general public, but rather than addressing its danger on purely medical grounds, our officials and commentators are subjecting it to political calculation.

Rush Limbaugh, for one, knows precisely who’s responsible for the disease showing up on our shores.  It’s those ungrateful blacks who fled (his word) America in the early 19th century to create their own nation in Africa.  Rush seems to think these fellows were unpatriotic.  Evidently, his writers neglected to complete the picture for him.  President James Monroe had encouraged these “ingrates” to found Liberia in the 1820’s, and they, in turn, responded by naming their capitol Monrovia, in tribute to him.  A point too fine, no doubt, to register on the radar of the great patriot of the airwaves.

If you think Rush’s analysis fantastic, consider the heated response to anyone who proposes quarantining those infected with Ebola.  HIV activists are objecting loudly.  Why, one wonders, would homosexuals feel compelled to weigh in on this issue?  After all, it would seem to be outside the purview of their highly focused advocacy.  Perhaps they’re motivated by the desire to be consistent.  In 1984, when AIDS first surfaced, prominent homosexuals took to the airwaves to condemn a policy of quarantine even though no such policy had been publicly discussed.  The Centers for Disease Control quickly agreed.  In 1985, Patricia Randall of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) announced that AIDS “is not a disease that would benefit from quarantining.”  She went on to say, “[I]t doesn’t make sense to quarantine people when you know that the disease is not casually transmitted.”  I suppose she hadn’t heard of casual sex, which some claim to be a basic human right.

Now, on the Ebola question, the CDC has stated that quarantine is not the answer, and the New York Times editorial board has agreed.  Odd.  The CDC has kept tuberculosis, cholera, and several other infectious diseases on its quarantine list and demands isolation for those with mumps.  Not to be outdone, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the current director of NIAID, appeared on the Sunday-morning talk shows to say the same.  Fauci’s declaration was, I thought, especially troubling.  He’s the medical official who, during the original outbreak of AIDS, encouraged the FDA to waive standard pharmaceutical trials and authorize the use of AZT not only on patients with AIDS but also on those who simply tested positive for HIV, then thought to be the precursor of the disease.  He reasoned it was a crisis; we had to fast-track the drug for the sake of the disease’s victims.  What were the results of this haste?  The supposed cure killed thousands, if not tens of thousands, of patients.  Yet here Fauci is again, this time reassuring us that he knows how to handle Ebola.  He recently announced on MSNBC that he is committed to “following the science,” which has proved that only those displaying symptoms can transmit Ebola.  When Chuck Todd questioned him about the 21-day incubation period that precedes any symptoms in those infected, he judiciously allowed that a policy of self-monitoring should be encouraged.  It seems the saintly Dr. Fauci has heroic trust in human nature.

While New York and New Jersey governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie initially stood admirably on principle, insisting that everyone coming into their states from West Africa would have to be quarantined, they began backpedaling at the first signs that political opposition might dampen their professional aspirations.  (What’s worse, they reversed course despite new evidence that carriers of the disease may be infectious well before displaying symptoms.)  It didn’t take much.  Kaci Hickox, a nurse who had been treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, defied Christie, saying she would not submit to his order, even though Miss Hickox, by some reports, had been imposing quarantine on her African patients.  What did Christie do?  Not much at all.

Miss Hickox then let Christie off the hook by flying to Maine.  At first, Pine Tree state officials said they would place the nurse under quarantine once she was within their borders.  But they settled for compromise.  Miss Hickox will stay home and submit to testing daily.  Victory for both sides.  Her neighbors, however, aren’t waving triumphal pennants.

Given the danger of a poorly understood lethal disease, is the imposition of a three-week quarantine on potentially infected people so burdensome?  Here the history of AIDS is instructive.  Can anyone seriously doubt that its spread would have been substantially curtailed by the imposition of a prudent and humane quarantine to give medical researchers more time to understand the danger before them?

But this is America, the land of the free, in which politicians and editorialists (and, sad to say, medical professionals) are more concerned with adopting safe, camera-ready positions than telling risky truths.  In the case of Ebola, science, it appears, must bow to politics—long-term risks be damned.