As the midterm elections grow closer, Americans now have another big fear to add to a growing list and another government agency to distrust.
Ebola is very unlikely to become a major health crisis in the United States but the fact that the deadly disease reached our shores has quite understandably shaken American nerves and left people deeply concerned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not up to the job of keeping us safe.
The CDC is just the latest in a line of federal agencies viewed as bumbling and incompetent. First it was the botched rollout of Obamacare by the Department of Health and Human Services and the IRS seemingly targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny. More recently, the Secret Service came under heavy criticism for allowing a knife-wielding intruder to burst in and run wild inside the White House, among other appalling lapses.
The CDC now is under heavy scrutiny for not moving more swiftly to ensure that Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan did not spread the disease to American nurses and for apparently unclear direction to one of those nurses, Amber Joy Vinson, about whether she could fly after treating Duncan.
Vinson, now being treated for Ebola, flew back and forth to Cleveland while carrying the virus, increasing the risk of its spread. A news report Friday morning said a Texas health worker who potentially had exposure to the virus was on a cruise ship.
Fairly or not, Americans are quickly souring on the Obama administration's Ebola response, with majorities favoring a travel ban from Ebola-stricken countries that the White House opposes.
And confidence in the CDC is plummeting.
A new CBS poll out Friday morning found that just 37 percent think the agency is doing an "excellent or good" job. That was down nearly half from a Gallup poll in May that found that 60 percent rated the CDC as excellent or good, the highest of any government agency.
CDC Director Tom Frieden came under withering criticism on Capitol Hill on Thursday—much but not all of it from Republicans—over his department's handling of Ebola thus far. And he has also been the recipient of the dreaded vote of "confidence" from the White House that often precedes an unceremonial sacking.
On Friday, President Barack Obama tapped Ron Klain, a longtime Democratic operative and advisor to Vice President Joe Biden and former Vice President Al Gore, as his Ebola "czar" in charge of coordinating the government response, not exactly a ringing endorsement of Frieden's work thus far.
The Ebola scare is sure to have some impact on the 2014 midterms though it will be unpredictable and hard to quantify.
At the most obvious level, the outbreak will further undermine confidence in the Obama administration and make those inclined to cast a protest vote against the president and his party even more likely to do so.
That's especially troubling for vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbents such as Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mark Begich in Alaska and Mark Pryor in Arkansas. Non-incumbent Democrats like Michelle Nunn in Georgia are harder to tie directly to the president (and indeed rarely if ever mention his name) but Republicans will surely continue to step up their efforts to do so.