Peggy Noonan’s Lessons on Ebola, Leadership and Common Sense

Peggy Noonan’s Lessons on
Ebola, Leadership and Common Sense


Leonard Zwelling

         Regular readers of this blog know that I have a great deal
of admiration for the Wall Street Journal’s Saturday columnist Peggy Noonan.
Ms. Noonan was a former Reagan speechwriter, an obviously conservative voice,
but often one of the few voices of sanity in an otherwise pretty nutty place
called Washington, DC.

         In her column of October 11-12, she begins by citing the
government’s absence of common sense in its handling of the accelerating Ebola
crisis. I say accelerating because not only is the rate of new cases increasing
in West Africa, but the public’s faith in America’s public health system to
protect it is eroding almost as rapidly as the endemic disease is advancing.
The public seems less disturbed by the death of the first Ebola victim on
American soil in Dallas than the fact that he was discharged from the ER two days
before being admitted despite having presented then with a fever and
having traveled from an area of Africa in which Ebola is rampant and in which
he had contact with a dying patient, a fact he kept hidden from screeners
during his trip to the US (so much for that pre-US screening and ER and EMR
readiness as trustworthy protection barriers). Now, one of his caretakers in Dallas is also infected.

     It doesn’t take the omnipresence
of Zombie stories in movies and on TV to convince the American public there is
a real threat of contagion. But when Ms. Noonan writes: “the common sense
thing—not brain science just common sense—as of today we will stop citizens of
the affected nations from entering the US,” she reflects the belief of most
Americans and the expectation of all Americans for the leadership in DC and
Atlanta to act. Instead we get the usual talking head suspects from the NIH and
CDC assuring us that we are all safe. Blah-blah! Why not err on the even safer
side? No one gets in from that part of Africa without 21 days of quarantine
first. Not rocket surgery.

         As Ms. Noonan says when discussing the new plan to screen
travelers coming into some airports in the US: “none of this plan makes sense.
It’s busy work meant to foster confidence. But it encourages the feeling that
no one’s in charge, the federal government isn’t working, everyone’s
dissembling, and the No. 1 priority is to keep the public calm as opposed to
safe.” Or as Bill Cosby said of parents: “they don’t care about justice. They
care about quiet.” Ditto the NIH and CDC and the Obama White House.

         The rest of Ms. Noonan’s column discusses the newly
published book by Leon Panetta called “Worthy Fights.” Ms. Noonan calls the
book: “an example of the mindless partisanship that has seized Washington.” And
that’s the nice stuff she said.

         Now Leon Panetta is a loyal Democrat. Ms. Noonan is an
equally loyal Republican. But what I got out of the column was the sense that
the book revealed a rather small man using his position in a self-serving
manner while criticizing his former boss, President Obama, for the ultimate
benefit of the Democrats in elections in 2014 and beyond.

         The whole column could have been called “Men Behaving Badly”
except that I suspect there were also women involved in some of these awful
decisions, one of whom may be running for President, with the Panetta book as
one of the props under her campaign to distance her from the Obama policies
that she took around the world.

         I believe this push for calm over safety and justice as well
as a rewriting of history (e.g., the race to the moon of the 1960s) also
characterizes the past few years at MD Anderson. In doing my follow-up research
to the Gonzalez-Angulo trial, I have learned that one of the critical issues
that may have prevented others from stopping the impending train wreck was
“most favored faculty” status of Dr. Gonzalez among the leaders in her clinical
group. I believe that there are a set of institutional policies that are
selectively enforced when those doing the enforcing are also those doing the
policy breaking (check out the whole issue of limiting administrative leave to
30 days and adherence to that policy by department chairs.) I believe that
there is the presence of intense moral relativism throughout the organization
where situational ethics trump judgment and discipline, and I believe that this
has occurred at the highest levels of the organization for well over 10 years.

the ridiculous AAUP audit is changing the subject. The real issue surrounding
the refusal of tenure to two senior faculty members who were voted in
unanimously by the PTC is the abuse of power by the President, not the
term-tenure system. So of course our crack Board of Regents supports the
term-tenure system exhibiting the confusion we have come to expect from Austin.

         Just as Ms. Noonan observes that it does not take a brain
scientist to figure out the best course of action for the US vis a vis the
endemic spread of Ebola in West Africa if the government is to fulfill its
fiduciary responsibilities to the American people, the same is true of the
leadership of MD Anderson and its fiduciary duties to the faculty and staff. If
the leaders crying: “why can’t we all get along” would just look up from their
desks and brokerage statements and realize that they are part of the problem
for having decided to serve the interests of those who would create such
inequity, while enriching themselves and their families on the backs of the
clinical faculty, perhaps they would understand why everyone can’t just get

         It, too, is not brain science.

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