Politics and Panic

Jon Stewart last night:

People are going freaking nuts over one Ebola patient in Texas. Cause for concern, yes, but in first-world conditions it shouldn’t be that hard to keep the infection contained. The CDC says that Ebola is only contagious while an infected person has active symptoms. Where the disease is raging in Africa it has been impossible to quarantine infected people.

It doesn’t help that the CDC’s budget was cut, because Republicans, eroding its ability to deal with things like contagious disease. To be a Republican is to be too dim to connect cause and effect. How many times in the past few years have Republicans gone on a rampage about poor government response to some situation, and then we learn that the agency responsible for the poor response had had its budget cut by Republicans?

Some parts of news media (guess which!) seem to be going out of their way to spread panic. And guess who is being called out for particular blame for one Ebola patient? In the Republican imagination POTUS is something like Professor X in X-men, and he can sit in his Cerebro chamber controlling all things with his mind. Laura Ingraham, at least, seems to think this.

As Stewart points out, we put up with a lot of preventable death in this country without blinking an eye. We can quibble with how much of our out-of-control gun violence rates are preventable, but if we compare U.S. rates of gun deaths to that of other countries it’s obvious that tens of thousands of people die in the U.S. every year who would not have died if they had been somewhere else. Our infant mortality rates have been a disgrace for decades, and Republicans find no end of creative ways to explain this away — nothing to see here, folks, move along. In some cases there’s only so much public policy can do, but earlier this year the CDC released its findings of a study of what it called “preventable deaths,” nothing that rates of these preventable deaths tend to be higher in the southeast states.  Hmmm.

But these deaths are somehow tolerable. One Ebola patient and the country has a meltdown. You don’t need a degree in Freudian analysis to suspect that much of the panic is coming from the Id, from fear of the unknown awful ( and nonwhite) things that  scare us. We’re supposed to tolerate stranger-men with assault rifles in restaurants, but some communities have pushed themselves to the brink of riot at the thought of Guatemalan children being housed in their midst.

And, of course, political operatives are milking this for all its worth, because you know that all over America there are living rooms full of extremely stupid people watching their televisions and saying, yeah, we’re all going to die of Ebola and its Obama’s fault. And maybe those people will go to the polls in November to vote Republican.