A nurse and doctor demonstrate to health care professionals how to properly put on protective medical gear when working with someone infected with the ebola virus on Oct. 21, 2014 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty

Turning the politics of Ebola on its ear

After a few weeks of Republicans turning the Ebola virus into a campaign instrument, it’s still not altogether clear what GOP officials and candidates want voters to think. The message is a little convoluted: Americans are supposed to be terrified, which should lead them to vote Republican, which in turn will empower GOP policymakers to do … something.
It’s not that Republicans actually have some Ebola-related policy agenda in mind that can only be implemented by a GOP-run Congress. Rather, the right seems to believe the Obama administration has been “incompetent” in its response to the Ebola threat. By voting Republican, Americans can ensure that GOP officials complain from the majority instead of complaining from the minority.
Some of the political hysterics have arguably been effective. The latest USA Today poll asked which party Americans believe can do a better job responding to the Ebola threat, and the parties were nearly tied (Democrats 34%, Republicans 32%). Most recent polling suggests the public is generally satisfied with President Obama’s handling of the issue, but it’s hardly one-sided.
It’s against this backdrop that Paul Waldman asks a good question: what if the political world’s approach to the Ebola threat is backwards?
Imagine that a year ago, I told you that a few months hence, west Africa would see the largest Ebola outbreak in history. Then I explained that despite regular travel in and out of the affected countries by health professionals and ordinary people, there would be a grand total of two – not two hundred, or two thousand, but two – Americans who contracted the disease here, and both of them would be nurses who had treated a dying patient who had contracted the disease in Liberia. And I told you that both of them would be treated, and would survive and be healthy. If I had told you that a year ago, would you have said, “Wow, that sounds like a gigantic federal government failure”?
Of course not. You’d say that sounds like a public health triumph.
Agreed. It seems many of the president’s detractors were so eager to declare a new “Obama’s Katrina” – the 11th in a series – that they overlooked the nagging detail that the federal response to Ebola has actually been quite effective.
Indeed, the irony of this political “controversy,” for lack of a better word, is that to find true incompetence, we must turn not to the White House but to those who’ve complained about the White House the loudest.
It wasn’t the White House that clumsily detained a nurse without cause for three days; it was Gov. Chris Christie (R). It wasn’t the president coming up with strange conspiracy theories; it was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). It wasn’t West Wing officials urging the public to ignore scientists; it was Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).
It wasn’t Obama who said terrorists with Ebola might sneak into the U.S. through Mexico, it was Scott Brown (R). It wasn’t Democrats who used Ebola as the basis for an election fundraiser; it was Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.). It wasn’t Democrats who descended into incoherence on the merits of an “Ebola czar”; it was congressional Republicans.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) appeared on one of the Sunday shows the other day, arguing that the public just can’t have any “confidence” that the Obama administration will deal with the threat effectively. First, the administration is already dealing with the threat effectively. Second, there’s polling that suggests the exact opposite is true.
But even putting that aside, the more pressing question seems to be why, given recent developments, anyone should trust the party engaging in reckless and baseless election-year fear-mongering.