When it comes to improving the public's understanding of the Ebola threat, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) isn't helping. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is coming up short in even more dramatic fashion.
The trouble started in earnest three weeks ago, when the Republican senator and likely presidential candidate started making appearances on right-wing radio programs, questioning Ebola assessments from the experts, blaming "political correctness," and raising threats that seemed plainly at odds with the facts. Last week, Paul went further, asserting without proof that public officials are deliberately misleading Americans about the virus.
In the face of criticism, the Kentucky lawmaker is undeterred. Paul has since said scientists are wrong about the disease being transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, and yesterday, Rosie Gray reported on the senator's latest efforts to scare the bejesus out of the public.
That Ebola virus can only be transferred through bodily fluids, Paul said, is "the same description that was given for AIDS. But no health workers in this country have gotten AIDS from handling linens." "They just changed the protocols a day ago," Paul said, seemingly referring to the CDC's tightening of Ebola protocols this week. "They've admitted they were wrong. Obviously they're flying by the seat of their pants." "If this was a plane full of people who were symptomatic, you'd be at grave risk of getting Ebola," Paul said. "If a plane takes 12 hours, how do you know if people will become symptomatic or not?" he said. There would be grave risk, he said, if "they're vomiting all over you or they're coughing all over you."
There's been a lot of talk in recent weeks about politicians making remarks that may be considered "disqualifying." Some, for example, have said dodging questions about votes in the 2012 presidential election is a deal-breaker for candidates seeking public support.
But at a certain point, it's not unreasonable to wonder whether Rand Paul's very public, very aggressive campaign to convince Americans to ignore public-health experts is itself a disqualifying development for a man who apparently wants to help lead the free world.
To reiterate a point from last week, because Rand Paul has a medical background, some may be more inclined to take his concerns seriously on matters of science and public health.
With this in mind, let's not forget that the senator, prior to starting a career in public office four years ago, was a self-accredited ophthalmologist before making the leap to Capitol Hill.
To assume Paul knows what he's talking about, and that he has more credibility that legitimate medical experts, is a mistake.
Stepping back, though, there's a larger context to consider, especially as the senator prepares for a national campaign. When the pressure is high and conditions get tense, the public can learn a lot about a potential leader. Do they maintain grace under fire or do they start to crack? Can they remain calm and responsible in the face of fear or do they run wild-eyed in misguided directions? Do they maintain their composure and keep a level head or do they encourage panic and anxiety?
The past couple of weeks have told us something important about Rand Paul, but none of what we're learning casts the senator in a positive light.
If you missed it, Rachel's segment on this from last week is well worth your time -- and it's just as accurate this morning as it was when it aired last Friday.