This afternoon, Nurse Kaci Hickox sent her third governor packing after a judge ruled that liberty cannot be taken away by government for no reason, he said she must be monitored but not quarantined. There was no evidence, he said, to suggest she was ill or a danger to the public. (Mayor deBlasio, you might take note as you try and take away the work, livelihood and property of the New York Carriage Horses.) This suggests that Hickox is not simply a whining brat thumbing her nose at authority, but is a principled and caring person taking a stand for liberty and common sense.
Earlier, an ABC News poll reported that 80 per cent of Americans believe everyone coming back from West Africa ought to be subject to some kind of quarantine. Hickox has so far not responded to my invitation to come down here and have lunch at the Round House Cafe, I suspect she is getting a lot of e-mail.
The Washington Post also reported that the story has now been absorbed by a truly lethal disease in America, the idea that every issue and story must be seen through the prism of the "left" or the "right." Kaci Hickox, says the media, is now the darling of the "left," and she is intensely disliked by the "right." Critic Alan Bloom calls this the shrinking of the American Mind, it is a good term for it. Nurse Wilcox was even attacked by Rush Limbaugh on his radio program yesterday, this is what you get for going to Africa to help people and sticking up for what you believe your rights to be.
You must be on the left or the right, thus either side can attack you for daring to think or speak.
I am increasingly befuddled by what it means to be on the "left" or the "right." In New York city, people on the "left" happily defame and destroy the rights of the carriage trade workers in the name of animal rights and progressivism. Elsewhere, people on the "right" applaud big government for intruding on medicine and science and forcing Kaci Wilcox to stay in her house when she isn't sick. Do these terms have any real meaning any longer?
This is perhaps the most interesting story I can recall, it has caught my imagination, and that of many others. I identify with Kaci Hickox who seems clearly to not be a threat to anyone, but is up against a Tsunami of election eve politics and the kind of fear and argument that cable news and social media spreads so efficiently and quickly.
Her case is heading for the courts, where it belongs, but it calls us to understand what compassion is, the importance of facts and truth, and the truly horrible mess that politics and media have both become in America. Every day, we are challenged to be grounded, human, reasoned and compassionate. Every day it is harder, I look at the e-mail and Facebook messages and just shake my head at the anger and disconnection that seem to deepen every day.
Still, a great story is a great story, and I was a reporter long enough to love one. This story reminds me in some ways of Clarence Darrow's great standoff against ignorance in the Scopes Monkey Trial, when he defended a school teacher for daring to teach the Theory of Evolution in a Tennessee scool. Darrow squared off against William Jennings Bryan. Darrow won, there was no cable news then, some people actually thought for themselves.
When I read that 80 per cent of Americans believe people returning from West Africa ought to be quarantined, I guess my first response was certainty that I am on the right side, and so is Kaci Hickox. It is never wrong, in my mind, to stand on the other side of the mob. I have never known a mob to be right. It is good to show compassion for the afraid, something else to pander to them. That's why I'm writing about this.
Kaci Hickox is a hero to me. I also understand that it is just and fair to be compassionate for the afraid, it is the job of leaders and journalists to tell people the truth, to soothe, educate and reassure, to take charge and be responsible. When that system fails, as it has, we are left with Facebook and Twitter, and whatever else Facebook and Twitter might do, fostering reason and the truth is not among it's achievements.
Most of all, I remind myself to feel compassion for the real victims of the Ebola epidemic, not Kaci Hickox or the people sitting behind their computers sending angry messages out into the ether. That would be the people in West Africa, who so desperately need the Kaci Wilcoxes of the world to return and help them. Americans don't seem to care that every single day that Kaci Wilcox is held against her will, they are making that less likely for that to happen. What sane health worker wouldn't think long and hard about going through what she is going through? In a few weeks, Kaci Wilcox will be fine, back at school, back at work. She says she will return to West Africa as soon as she can.
The people of West Africa will be less fortunate, I rarely seem them mentioned on Facebook.
If there are any heroes to this sad story for me, is the doctors and nurses willing to step out of their lives and risk their lives for others. They are also the only real hope of ending this epidemic, Americans are not the ones who need to worry the most. Panic is the most infectious disease in the world, political opportunism and a lazy and irresponsible media close behind.
If you read history, you know that we are rarely afraid of the right things. I would be happy (and safe) for Kaci Hickox to come to the Round House for lunch, to stand within three feet of me, happy to have her living next door, thrilled to have her over for dinner. I'd be delighted to give her a hug. I might even get a button that says, "I'm with the 20 per cent." Definitely where I belong.