GOP Plan on Ebola: Cry Fire in a Crowded Theater

by Robert Creamer Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book:  Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer. 21.10.2014

Here’s the bottom line.   If your idea of leadership is a guy who cries fire in a crowded theater, then vote for the Republican candidate nearest you (or at least most of them) in the November election – and help make Mitch McConnell Senate Majority Leader.
There is an Ebola crisis.  It is in West Africa.  And it could surely affect people in other areas of the world if the entire international community does not respond to contain it. 
It is absolutely in the entire world’s interest to develop treatments for those who become infected, and a vaccine to prevent future epidemics.  After all we all live on the same tiny “spaceship earth” where infectious diseases that affect some of us, can surely spread to others.
But we do not currently have an “Ebola Crisis” in the United States. Those who have fomented panic for their own political gain are engaging in the worst form of demagoguery.
At this moment one person who was infected with Ebola came to this country.  Two others have been infected.  Forty-three others who lived in close proximity to the original Ebola victim have failed to develop any Ebola symptoms and been cleared from quarantine after the 21-day incubation period elapsed.  Others are still being monitored.
To date, Ebola has infected .0000006 percent of the U.S population of 316 million. It has infected one person in every 158 million.  Remember that 36,000 people die annually in the United States from the flu.
At this moment there is no Ebola epidemic in the United States.  But some have tried – quite intentionally – to create an epidemic of fear and panic for their own political gain.  That is irresponsible and reprehensible.
Many of the Republican Party’s most strident voices – including the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – have absolutely no shame when it comes to exploiting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to sow fear in the United States with the hope of harvesting votes in the November election.  
There has been a chorus of inflammatory comments.
Then they proposed cutting off flights from the affected countries to the United States.  Of course, since there are no direct flights from these countries, that would involve cutting off connecting flights – mostly from Brussels, Amsterdam and other European cities.  As usual, they shot first and aimed later.
Some have now clarified they want to suspend temporary visas for those who have traveled in the region.  Of course, as the White House and virtually every expert in infectious disease has pointed out, that would give travelers an incentive to evade detection, conceal their travel histories and therefore make it much harder for us to make certain they are screened before they enter the United States.   It would also make it more difficult to combat the epidemic at its source, since what is really needed is to surge resources to West Africa and a travel ban would make it harder to move critically needed personnel and supplies.
Amazingly, on Fox New Sunday, conservative commentator George Will erroneously cited a Minnesota report to claim that the Ebola virus could be “airborne”.  The agency issuing the report immediately indicated Will was misreading its conclusions – since there is no known case of airborne transmission of the disease.  In fact, to get Ebola you have to be exposed to the bodily fluids of a symptomatic victim.  Forget the facts, better to incite fear.
Senator Rand Paul suggested that the Ebola virus is “incredibly infectious” and could be picked up at casual social events. Experts in infectious disease say that is simply not true.
Various Republicans have argued that our “porous borders” allow immigrants with Ebola to sneak into our country.
What makes all of this even more outrageous is that the Republican campaign to slash Federal budgets has resulted in cuts to spending at the Centers for Disease Control – our front line against biological enemies like Ebola – and to the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).   In fact the Director of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins, stated flatly that if agency’s budget had not been cut by 23% over the last decade, it would have probably already have developed an Ebola vaccine.
The fact is that the Republicans are soft on our defense against deadly biological enemies – like viruses.  And that is not only true of Ebola.   We could save tens of thousands of people each year from infectious diseases like the flu, if we were to use a fraction of the money going to tax breaks the GOP gives to the oil companies and to hedge fund managers to fund scientific research.   But Republicans would much rather give tax breaks to CEO’s and Wall Street banks that do something serious to defend our population from biological attacks.
And in the end it gets down to a question of leadership.
Most people want leaders like Captain Chesley Sullenberger who was cool a cucumber as he successfully executed an emergency water landing in New York’s Hudson river after US Airways flight 1549 was disabled when it ran into a flock of geese after it took off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport in 2009. 
Sullenberger could have panicked – and he could have panicked his passengers.  Instead he focused on solving the problem and doing what was necessary to maintain control of the airplane to land it safely.
I’ve been a pilot for 30 years.  The first thing you are taught in flight school is that panic is your enemy.  If you encounter a problem, the first priority is to remain calm and maintain control of the aircraft.
You may disagree with some of the policies of Barack Obama.  But when he was first elected and confronted a true crisis – a crisis that threatened to destroy the American economy – that no kidding threatened the American way of life – Obama was decisive, cool and effective at steering America away from disaster.

And against the advice of many of his advisors, Obama – together with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – were calm but iron willed – as they passed health care reform that now provides health care for the first time to millions of Americans and eliminated from us all the fear that one illness could cause us financial ruin.
After hearing out many of his advisors who were hesitant to act, Obama coolly and decisively launched the raid that finally brought Osama Bin Laden to justice.
I’d be a passenger on a ship of state captained by leaders like Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid any time before I would trust our future to those who would intentionally incite public panic in order to seize personal power.


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