Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Swine Flu: Obama's Public Health Katrina?

As deaths from swine flu continue to increase, and as the vaccine continues to be scarce when and where it is needed most, criticism of the Obama administration is increasing, too--including from some unlikely places, such as Obama's lefty base.

For example, Barbara Ehrenreich, an early Barack Obama supporter, is not happy with her man at all. She has let Obama have it over the swine flu fiasco, even going so far as to drop the "i" word, impeachment. Here at SMS, we don't find ourselves agreeing with Ehrenreich all that often, and we don't agree on impeachment; but we will certainly agree that she is a smart, as well as prolific, port-side observer.

And given that something has clearly gone wrong with the swine flu vaccine program, we read this post of hers, from today, "Why Your Child May Not Get a Swine Flu Shot Soon," with considerable interest. Ehrenreich is the author of a provocative new book, Brightsided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, critiquing the "positive mental attitude" movement. And so her new piece on swine flu, published by The Nation Institute, is laced with snarky references to "positive thinking."

But whether one agrees or disagrees with Ehrenreich's somewhat dyspeptic leftism, her slicing of the Obama administration's over-optimism on the vaccine is, indeed, cutting:

If you can't find any swine flu vaccine for your kids, it won't be for a lack of positive thinking. In fact, the whole flu snafu is being blamed on "undue optimism" on the part of both the Obama administration and Big Pharma.

Optimism is supposed to be good for our health. According to the academic "positive psychologists," as well as legions of unlicensed life coaches and inspirational speakers, optimism wards off common illnesses, contributes to recovery from cancer, and extends longevity. To its promoters, optimism is practically a miracle vaccine, so essential that we need to start inoculating Americans with it in the public schools -- in the form of "optimism training."

But optimism turns out to be less than salubrious when it comes to public health. In July, the federal government promised to have 160 million doses of H1N1 vaccine ready for distribution by the end of October. Instead, only 28 million doses are now ready to go, and optimism is the obvious culprit.

Of course, when she is not dumping on positive mental attitude, Ehrenreich is an advocate for socialism--and also, interestingly, she raises the issue of impeachment:

Are we ready to abandon faith-based medicine of both the individual and public health variety? Faith in private enterprise and the market has now left us open to a swine flu epidemic; faith alone -- in the form of optimism or hope -- does not kill viruses or cancer cells. On the public health front, we need to socialize vaccine manufacture as well as its distribution. Then, if the supply falls short, we can always impeach the president. On the individual front, there's always soap and water.

Impeachment? Really? I will assume that Ehrenreich is kidding.

But in the meantime, back to swine flu. Whatever it was that the Obamans have been doing these past 10 months, we now that they weren't strategizing over Serious Medicine. Or if they were strategizing, they didn't do a very good job.

Indeed, amidst all their delays, and, yes, dithering, their public-health effort is looking increasingly Katrina-ish. That's not grounds for impeachment, but it is the basis for a harsh verdict from the voters.

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