Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
The Centers for Disease Control has a $6.6 billion budget and one job which it messes up every time.
The last time the CDC had a serious workout was six years ago during the Ebola crisis. Back then CDC guidelines allowed medical personnel infected with Ebola to avoid a quarantine and interact with Americans until they showed undeniable symptoms of the disease. There were no protocols in place for treating the potentially infected resulting in the further spread of the disease inside the United States.
At the height of the crisis, confidence in the CDC fell to 37%. Meanwhile, CDC personnel had managed to mishandle Ebola virus samples, accidentally sending samples of the live virus to CDC labs. And the heads of the health bureaucracy blamed the lack of funding for their failure to have an Ebola vaccine.
The self-quarantine measures adopted in response to the coronavirus outbreak are partially a response to the lessons of the Ebola disaster.
But during the Ebola crisis, Democrats tried to shift responsibility from the Obama administration by blaming Republicans for cutting the CDC’s budget from $6.5 billion to $5.9 billion. Sound familiar? Where do those billions for the CDC actually go? Among other things, pushing gun control. The terrible budget deal from December allocated $25 million to the CDC and NIH to study gun violence.
During the Ebola crisis, the CDC had been spending a mere $2.6 million on gun violence studies. But the CDC has a history of wasting money on everything from a $106 million visitor’s center with Japanese gardens, a $200K gym, a transgender beauty pageant, not to mention promoting bike paths.
The occasional outbreak only calls the CDC’s general incompetence to everyone’s attention. The rest of the time its incompetence, like that of other government agencies, just ticks along wasting money.
In 1999, the CDC announced a plan to end syphilis in 5 years. The Clinton era National Plan to Eliminate Syphilis was an unserious social welfare proposal that wanted to battle racism and was such a success that by 2018, syphilis rates had hit a new record high. But Democrat presidential candidates using the CDC for imaginary proposals to end a disease, not by utilizing science, but social welfare, had become a bad habit under Obama, diverting resources from what the CDC could realistically do for political scams.
In 2011, Hillary Clinton had promised an “AIDS-free generation” by, in part, using the CDC. Like her presidency, the “AIDS-free generation” never arrived and was never going to.
In 2016, Obama allowed Joe Biden to use the CDC for his Cancer Moonshot political stunt.
“If I’m elected president you’re gonna see single most important thing that changes America, we’re going to cure cancer,” Biden promised last year.
Joe Biden can’t cure anything. Including his own mental state. But, like Hillary, he can waste the resources of the CDC to make false promises to voters while weakening its core competencies.
The CDC is a classic example of a progressive success story, an agency created to fight malaria by spraying DDT, whose original mission has long since become politically incorrect and which instead adopted a politically correct search for the social root causes of diseases like syphilis and AIDS.
Unlike fighting malaria by spraying DDT, fighting syphilis by combatting racism doesn’t work.
The CDC’s fight against the “obesity epidemic” is even sillier. That includes funding 15 colleges to “work with community extension services to increase access to healthier foods and safe and accessible places for physical activity.” That meant giving LSU over a million bucks to work with farmers’ markets.
Obesity obviously can kill people, but it’s not something that the CDC can or should be trying to fix.
America doesn’t need the CDC as a pipeline for pork to state schools. We do need the CDC to fulfill its original mandate by dealing with outbreaks of infectious diseases, initially malaria and smallpox, and now Ebola or the coronavirus. We need science, not social welfare.
Unfortunately, the CDC, like every federal agency, has drifted from its core mission into social welfare.
By the time the Clinton administration had gotten through wrecking the CDC, its labs were infested with mice and rats, and had leaky ceilings. Not only hadn’t it cured syphilis, but it was utterly unready to deal with the anthrax threat. The Obama administration rolled back Bush administration reforms and brought back the old broken CDC under Thomas Frieden. After Frieden botched the Ebola crisis, even mainstream media outlets joined Republicans in calling for his resignation.
The CDC left the Obama era even more damaged than ever before.
Every administration has tried to put its own stamp on the CDC by playing around with organizational charts and adding more pointless initiatives. Meanwhile all those billions of dollars that Americans think are going to fight the outbreaks of contagious diseases are going to anything and everything but.
There is a vast gap between what the CDC should be doing and what it does. What it ought to be doing is utilizing its unique specialties and capabilities to study dangerous contagious diseases. And the CDC’s capabilities in this regard are impressive. But what it ends up doing is battling social problems like obesity, the opioid crisis, or STDs because that’s what politicians, especially Democrats, want.
President Trump is right to hold the Obama administration accountable for the woeful state of the CDC. But the problem didn’t begin in 2008. And it isn’t limited to the CDC, but to the entire government.
The government is full of agencies, departments, and sections that do nothing but waste time and money. Some also manage to advance dangerous and destructive initiatives. But there are times when we urgently need these otherwise useless parts of the government to work correctly and quickly.
And then we discover that they don’t work.
No one thinks about the CDC until we need it and discover it doesn’t work. And then the same story repeats itself a few years later while the CDC goes back to battling obesity and racism.
The solution begins with restating the mission of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, defining what a disease is, and what controlling or preventing it means. Rolling back mission creep starts with ending CDC campaigns against lifestyle behaviors and focusing on preventing actual disease outbreaks through science, not social welfare.
The old CDC studied behavior for targeted medical intervention. It would track malaria to its source and bring in the DDT or study smallpox outbreaks to find where they originated from. But the new CDC treats behavior as the object of study and the cure. It rolls out grandiose proposals to change behavior that never materialize. The CDC’s failure is fundamentally that of the big government welfare state.
Sociology isn’t science. Virology is.
Social welfare isn’t just a dangerous distraction, it prevents the CDC from making the right decisions about keeping infected people from entering the United States when lives are on the line.
The government doesn’t work because most of it is built on changing people’s minds, whether it’s winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan, or convincing everyone to drive electric cars in Wisconsin, instead of grappling with physical problems by applying physics and chemistry to the problem of the terrorists or economics to the cost of transportation.
We don’t need a CDC that changes people’s minds about eating chocolate or engaging in unprotected sex. There are already multiple redundant parts of the government that are trying and failing there.
We need a CDC that deals with viruses instead of trying to brainwash people.