Peggy Noonan's plan to save America: Think like an 11-year-old

WSJ columnist is insulted by Ebola "experts," says it's time to put our faith in the wisdom of children

Published October 17, 2014 3:59PM (EDT)

Peggy Noonan
Peggy Noonan

Peggy Noonan has taken stock of the Ebola crisis in America and she’s devised a solution, an answer, a panacea, if you will. Peggy is angry. She’s upset. She’s insulted. The Centers for Disease Control thinks that she is a fool. That we are all fools. She thinks they don’t trust this great nation and its common-sense native intelligence in the realms of virology and epidemiology. Why? she asks. Why won’t these government officials and public health experts defer to the infallible collected wisdom of the people of this storied land, this shining beacon of freedom?


The government won’t institute a travel ban for West Africa, she observes. But why? The people in charge – the “authorities” – they speak in nonsense words, in “double talk, runaround and gobbledygook.” They say things that don’t make immediate sense and thus aren’t worth taking seriously. “We cannot ban people at high risk of Ebola from entering the U.S. because people in West Africa have Ebola, and we don’t want it to spread. Huh?”


We need a travel ban, Ms. Noonan observes, drawing deeply from her vast reservoirs of disease-control expertise. “If we don’t momentarily close the door to citizens of the affected nations, it is certain that more cases will come into the U.S.” It is certain! They will come here with their disease. They will come to America. You may be inclined to note that the broad consensus among public health officials is that closing off West Africa will only make the epidemic there worse, which will in turn increase the risk of transmission to America. The petulant naysayers among you may be wont to point out that imposing a flight ban will only make it harder to track the movements and contacts of potentially infected persons.

But that’s just more gobbledygook, more amphigory, more hurbledy-burbledy. That, as Ms. Noonan writes, is how the government talks, and “everyone who speaks for the government on this issue has been instructed to imagine his audience as anxious children.” No … instead of speaking like children, writes Ms. Noonan, we should be thinking like children:

It is one thing that Dr. Frieden, and those who are presumably making the big decisions, have been so far incapable of making a believable and compelling case for not instituting a ban. A separate issue is how poor a decision it is. To call it childish would be unfair to children. In fact, if you had a group of 11-year-olds, they would surely have a superior answer to the question: “Sick people are coming through the door of the house, and we are not sure how to make them well. Meanwhile they are starting to make us sick, too. What is the first thing to do?”

The children would reply: “Close the door.” One would add: “Just for a while, while you figure out how to treat everyone getting sick.” Another might say: “And keep going outside the door in protective clothing with medical help.” Eleven-year-olds would get this one right without a lot of struggle.

Yes! Trust in the wisdom of 11-year-olds. Unlike disease control officials, they are not burdened by years of experience in dealing with outbreaks, and the things they say are generally easier to understand. And whose heart is not warmed by the delicate innocence of a child’s words as imagined by a former Reagan official?

And if you doubt Peggy Noonan’s authority to adjudicate matters of air travel and communicable illness, then you clearly don't know that she's spent many, many years flying in airplanes and commenting on the dangers posed by travelers from Africa with scary diseases:

There aren't really a lot of nice things about flying. It's scary, germy, full of delays. They don't clean the planes as they once did—the tray is not clean and as you open it and see the coke and coffee marks, you wonder if it was used on the last flight by a Senegalese tourist with typhus.

Peggy Noonan was ahead of the curve.


By Simon Maloy

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