Although Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil, has now died of the disease, American public health officials remain confident in our nation’s ability to prevent a widespread epidemic. “The bottom line here is we know how to stop it,” CDC director Tom Frieden told NBC News this weekend. “It's not going to spread widely in the U.S., for two basic reasons. We can do infection control in hospitals, and we can do public health interventions that can stop it in its tracks.”
His wasn’t the only voice that sought to reassure. “I know there's a lot of reason to be concerned. It is a serious problem, but in my lifetime, when we have been frightened by this so-called coming epidemic—most of it has never materialized,” said Mr. Paul. Ron Paul, that is, Rand’s dad. “I think sometimes overreaction can become very dangerous as well,” said the elder Paul. Indeed.
Sir, please call your son and tell him that.
Rand Paul, Republican Senator from Kentucky, recently told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham that Ebola “could get beyond our control” and speculated: “Can you imagine if a whole ship full of our soldiers catch Ebola?”
Saying “it’s a real mistake to underplay the danger of a worldwide pandemic,” Paul, doing his level best to overplay the danger, told Glenn Beck: “I think I said this the last time I was on your show a couple weeks ago, I said that I’m concerned that political correctness has caused us to underplay the threat of Ebola.” Er, um, because the people dying of Ebola in West Africa are black? I’m confused… Anyway, I thought the reason not to let panic spread was because, you know, panic is bad and we should have a rational and informed public rather than an irrationally fearful one. But speaking of informed…
“It’s an incredibly transmissible disease that everyone is downplaying, saying it’s hard to catch,” Rand said to Beck. “Well, we have physicians and health workers who are catching it who are completely gloved down and taking every precaution and they’re still getting it. So, yes, I’m very concerned about this.” Rand Paul, mind you, is a doctor and should know better than to spread skepticism or downright misinformation about public health issues. But instead, he is using Ebola to not only attack President Obama (as are other Republicans, natch) but to push his extremist anti-government agenda that goes beyond healthy skepticism to tin-foil hat conspiracy land
Though here it’s worth noting Rand’s hypocrisy—the health workers who are contracting Ebola don’t have adequate protective gear, something the United States might be able to help with if we would actually fund public health and foreign aid instead of slashing it. Meanwhile, Rand Paul actually wants to end all U.S. foreign aid. Think of how much worse Ebola would be in West Africa without America’s help.
Paul isn’t alone in panic-mongering. Other Republicans have joined in, including Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, who mysteriously also blamed “political correctness” for why the United States is sending troops to help in West Africa, troops Gohmert asserts will “get Ebola that they can bring back.
And the former head of the Republican Party in South Carolina recently tweeted that anyone in the United States who has Ebola should be euthanized immediately, adding a lynch mob dimension to the panic
Why? Partly, it’s the “any excuse to criticize anything on Obama’s watch” mindset. But also just as the news media plays to or even inflames such fears to drive ratings, Republicans stoke fear to drive votes. Simply put, when voters fear for their safety, they vote more Republican. Scaring voters, whether about ISIS or Ebola, is good for the GOP.
As fear about ISIS grew among Americans, so did support for Republican leadership on foreign policy. An October 6 poll found that just 11 percent of Americans are “very worried” they will be exposed to Ebola. If Republican panic hyping continues, aided and abetted by media coverage, look for that number to rise—along with the electoral outlook for Republicans next month
And meanwhile, look for Rand Paul to carve out his own corner of this advantage by stoking anti-government sentiment as well—the same October 6 poll found that 42 percent of independent voters are not confident in government’s ability to handle any Ebola outbreak. As that number grows, so does the potential voting block for a anti-government libertarian Rand Paul presidency.
“Could we have a worldwide pandemic?” Rand Paul asked in another interview. “The Spanish flu in 1918 killed 21 million people, the plague in the 14th century killed 25 million people; I’m not saying that’s going to happen, I don’t know what’s going to happen.” Actually, Rand Paul, despite every reasonable and responsible fact to the contrary, you not only implying a mass pandemic might happen but clearly encouraging the American people to panic.
Your own dad said that’s dangerous. Take his advice.