"I've joined with the Conservative Action Fund and started the Stop Ebola Petition to ensure the safety of Americans and demand Congress end all commercial flights from ebola stricken nations," Broun wrote in a message sent to the group's email list. "Ebola travels fast -- this petition has to travel faster." The email, marked by two black blocks with bright red lettering, is titled "Stop Ebola from reaching you." Its appeal continues, "If you can ... please chip in $5 or $10 to the Conservative Action Fund to help us distribute this petition to literally millions of American citizens."
When public fears surrounding the Ebola virus subside, and we're able to reflect on which public officials acted responsibly and which acted poorly, we'll regrettably have ample fodder for the latter category.
And near the top of the list will be Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), who actually distributed a fundraising letter through the far-right Conservative Action Fund, exploiting public anxiety for cash. Jennifer Haberkorn reported over the weekend:
Let's put aside the fact that a travel ban is a bad idea. While we're at it, let's overlook the minor detail that a "Stop Ebola Petition" will not actually affect public policy in any way.
The more pressing question, I'd argue, is about basic propriety. Who sees a deadly virus and growing public fears, and thinks, "You know, this would look great in a fundraising letter"? Who tries to profit off a disease with political nonsense?
What's more, note that Broun isn't using Ebola as a way to raise cash for himself -- Broun is leaving Congress this year, following a failed U.S. Senate bid -- but rather as a way to help the Conservative Action Fund, the group founded by Shaun McCutcheon of McCutcheon vs. FEC fame.
As unseemly as this is, the broader concern is that anxiety about the virus appears to be bringing out the worst in the Republicans' instincts. The nation faces a real public-health challenge and the public needs officials ready to rise to the occasion, showing that when the going gets tough, they're made of sterner stuff.
What Americans are instead confronted with is Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) spreading unscientific nonsense on purpose; Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) saying Hamas might contract Ebola on purpose to attack Americans; Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) sponsoring legislation on travel to West Africa without first looking at the details surrounding travel to West Africa; Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) arguing terrorists with Ebola represent a "real and present danger"; former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) warning of Ebola sneaking past the Mexican border; all while the GOP in general, when it's not making contradictory claims about "czars," it's looking at Ebola as a campaign theme for no coherent reason.
And those are just Republican elected officials. Don't get me started on Republicans in media, including Peggy Noonan's insistence that federal officials would be wise to ignore public-health experts and start thinking about addressing complex issues the way 11-year-old children do.
In fairness, not every Republican of note has been reckless. Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) acknowledged late last week that the proposed travel ban would be "grossly counterproductive." Mike Leavitt, the Bush/Cheney HHS secretary, reached a similar conclusion.
But given recent events, Frist and Leavitt represent pockets of isolated sanity on Ebola in a sea of nonsense.
The public needs Republicans to bring their A game to this serious public-health challenge. So far, the party is failing miserably.