I don’t know if Ebola is actually going to take Republicans to victory this fall, but it’s becoming obvious that they are super-psyched about it. Put a scary disease together with a new terrorist organization and the ever-present threat of undocumented immigrants sneaking over the border, and you’ve got yourself a putrid stew of fear-mongering, irrationality, conspiracy theories, and good old-fashioned Obama-hatred that they’re luxuriating in like it was a warm bath on a cold night.
It isn’t just coming from the nuttier corners of the right where you might expect it. It’s going mainstream. One candidate after another is incorporating the issue into their campaign. Scott Brown warns of people with Ebola walking across the border. Thom Tillis agrees: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got an Ebola outbreak, we have bad actors that can come across the border. We need to seal the border and secure it.” “We have to secure the border. That is the first thing,” says Pat Roberts, “And in addition, with Ebola, ISIS, whoever comes across the border, the 167,000 illegals who are convicted felons, that shows you we have to secure the border and we cannot support amnesty.” Because really, what happens if you gave legal status to that guy shingling your roof, and the next thing you know he’s a battle-hardened terrorist from the ISIS Ebola brigade who was sent here to vomit on your family’s pizza? That’s your hope and change right there.
Nor is it just candidates. Today the Weekly Standard, organ of the Republican establishment, published an article called “Six Reasons to Panic,” which includes insights like “even if this Ebola isn’t airborne right now, it might become so in the future,” and asks, “What’s to stop a jihadist from going to Liberia, getting himself infected, and then flying to New York and riding the subway until he keels over?” What indeed? This follows on a piece in the Free Beacon (which is the junior varsity Weekly Standard) called “The Case For Panic,” which argued that the Obama administration is so incompetent that everything that can kill us probably will.
Even if most people aren’t whipped up into quite the frenzy of terror Republicans hope, I suspect that there will be just enough who are to carry the GOP across the finish line in November. When people are afraid, they’re more likely to vote Republican, so it’s in Republicans’ interest to make them afraid. And you couldn’t come up with a better vehicle for creating that fear than a deadly disease coming from countries full of dark-skinned foreigners. So what if only two Americans, both health care workers caring for a dying man, have actually caught it? You don’t need facts to feed the fear. And they only need two and a half more weeks.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 17, 2014
The first transmission of Ebola within the United States, from Liberian visitor Thomas Eric Duncan to a Dallas nurse, marked a turning point in the political dialogue surrounding the virus toward an unbridled opportunism. The subsequent diagnosis of a second nurse and other revelations—that she took a flight shortly before she began showing symptoms, apparently with Centers for Disease Control’s approval—have only accelerated it. Obviously a degree of paranoia and sensationalism has colored the Ebola story since long before this week. But this week’s developments provided conservatives the psychological ammunition they needed to justify using the specter of a major Ebola outbreak as an election-year base-mobilization strategy.
Republican candidates like Scott Brown are now in on the game, and so is House Speaker John Boehner. Fox News, with the exception of Shepard Smith, is ginning up more Ebola terror than CNN, which had been the vanguard of Ebola hysteria until this week. Matt Drudge’s call to panic was not only deranged—
—but unintentionally self-defeating, as one cannot vote if one is self-quarantined.
Engaging in the politics of fear requires a pretense. You can find people who hype mortal danger, without a sheen of plausibility, shouting into bullhorns on street corners. Politicians and their enablers need persuasive stories that make the threats sound real. And the story that many conservatives are telling about Ebola goes something like this: We’d love to eschew hysteria, and we’d love to believe our public health officials can break the chain of transmission within the U.S., but the Obama administration has proven itself untrustworthy.
“This is an episode when people want to trust the government, people need to trust the government and they can’t,” columnist George Will intoned on Fox News earlier this month. “What was happening exactly 12 months ago? A government shutdown and the disastrous rollout of Healthcare.gov. Since then we’ve had intelligence failures regarding ISIS; we’ve had the debacle of the veterans handling of healthcare; and the Secret Service that couldn’t lock the front door of the White House. So people think this is a gang that can’t shoot straight.”
University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds repackaged Will’s basic argument in USA Today on Monday. Among those he cited was “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, who added lost IRS emails, Edward Snowden’s NSA disclosures, and the child-migrant crisis to the litany. Members of the media are enabling this opportunism. They should be anathematizing it.
The competence argument is appealing because it doesn’t require dabbling in pseudoscience or xenophobia—just healthy skepticism of our governing institutions. Moreover, I’m certain this sort of skepticism does help explain why a large minority of people in the U.S. feels at risk of contracting Ebola. But they are at no great risk. That the risk is provably infinitesimal underscores the fact that the issue with Ebola isn’t the virus itself so much as paranoia about it.
Even if each of the failures and crises enumerated above were as unambiguous and damning as the administration’s critics claim, it doesn’t follow that federal health officials aren’t up to the task of controlling Ebola, or that the public at large faces any meaningful risk. It might follow that we shouldn’t believe this season’s Affordable Care Act enrollment period will be glitch-free, and that the Vetrerans Affairs’s problems won’t be solved with new management alone. The point is not that we should never draw inferences from this administration’s previous failings. But it’s a fallacy to arbitrarily extend that second-guessing to the Ebola containment effort, while at the same time happily taking it for granted that the vast majority of things we entrust the government to do will continue apace.
Ebola carries a crucial mix of novelty, visibility, and lethality that ripens it for demagogy. But conservatives have selected a familiar line of demagogy—that you can’t trust the government to administer things and solve problems—and imposed it on to a situation where stoking reflexive distrust of the government tugs at the lid of a big Pandora’s box.
The sad irony is that state and local institutions, so beloved on the right, were apparently out to sea when Ebola arrived in Dallas, and health officials there would have let things drift further into chaos had the federal government not intruded further. Not that they’ve performed flawlessly, but we need more of their expertise and involvement, not less. Texas Governor Rick Perry—who in gentler times plays footsie with secession—is grateful for this intrusion, and has “great faith” that their efforts will succeed. Perhaps he’ll surprise us further by dismissing the idea that the federal officials who’ve stepped up against Ebola shouldn’t be trusted because about a year ago, some federal healthcare website was beset by glitches.
By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, October 16, 2014
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was dismissive yesterday of an unfounded concern: Islamic State terrorists using the Ebola virus. In remarks to the Association of the United States Army, Johnson specifically said, “We’ve seen no specific credible intelligence that [ISIS] is attempting to use any sort of disease or virus to attack our homeland.”
That’s good to hear, of course, but the fact that it was necessary for the DHS secretary to make these comments was itself rather striking.
As a friend reminded me yesterday, we’ve heard quite a bit about possible threats from ISIS terrorists; and we’ve heard plenty about the dangers of Ebola; but we’ve apparently entered a new phase in which ISIS may strike with Ebola.
And where is such talk coming from? Greg Sargent reported yesterday on the latest remarks from former Sen. Scott Brown (R), now running in New Hampshire after losing two years ago in Massachusetts. In this case, the Republican was asked whether he supports travel restrictions on countries in West Africa. Brown replied:
“We need a comprehensive approach and I think that should be part of it. I think it’s all connected. For example, we have people coming into our country by legal means bringing in diseases and other potential challenges. Yet we have a border that’s so porous that anyone can walk across it. I think it’s naive to think that people aren’t going to be walking through here who have those types of diseases and/or other types of intent, criminal or terrorist. And yet we do nothing to secure our border.”
Brown has dabbled in this before, but I think this was the most direct he’s been to date to tie together the disparate threads of terrorism, Ebola, and border security, all at the same time, all in the hopes of exploiting public anxiety to advance his personal ambitions. (North Carolina’s Thom Tillis recently pushed a similar tack, though he didn’t go for the full trifecta.)
The politics of fear isn’t pretty, and as Brown makes clear, it’s getting worse. The public can, however, take at least some comfort in the fact that the New England Republican doesn’t seem to have any idea what he’s talking about.
For example, Brown believes “that anyone can walk across” the border because “we do nothing to secure” it. For an issue the Republican claims to take seriously, he’s badly confused – border security is actually at an all-time high.
But the more amusing takeaway is the degree to which the right wants to connect every story to its unrelated goal. Want to improve the economy? Secure the border. Want to fight terrorism? Secure the border. Worried about public health? Secure the border. Worried about crime? Secure the border.
If you’ve got a problem, Republicans have a border that needs securing.
It’s reminiscent of the Bush/Cheney era, when just about every possible challenge – economy, energy policy, terrorism, health care – was met with a call to cut taxes.
Of course, the difference is, when it comes to immigration, Democrats are fully prepared to give Republicans the exact border-security measures the GOP wants as part of a comprehensive reform package. It’s a shame Republicans won’t consider a compromise.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 15, 2014
“GOP Strategy Won’t Fool Women”: All The Rhetoric In The World Won’t Make Up For Republicans Opposing Pro-Women Policies
If they’re going to pull out a victory in the midterm elections, Republicans need to win over women. But they’re doing everything in their power to alienate them, from pushing extreme anti-abortion measures that even most Republican voters oppose to blocking equal-pay legislation to, well, just opening their mouths. A leading Republican congressional candidate in Georgia recently said, sure, a woman can run for office if she is “within the authority of her husband.”
A report actually commissioned by Republican groups and reported in Politico found that women view the party as “intolerant” and “stuck in the past.” The report found that women are “barely receptive” to GOP policies.
In other words, Republicans are losing female voters faster than their anti-contraception policies can produce them.
What are Republicans to do? The Republican Party seems reluctant to change its actual policies to support women’s economic and reproductive choices and, ya know, generally acknowledge the realities of modern liberated women. So instead, several Republican candidates are coming out against domestic violence in an attempt to seem sensitive to us girls and our issues. That should do the trick, right?
“My ex-husband beat me with a baseball bat, threw me in a garbage can filled with snow and left me in a frozen storage locker to die,” a woman says, looking straight at the camera, in one such ad for Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin. “At that time, I was pregnant, and I lost the child I was carrying. But I fought to stay alive for my other two children, and today I am fighting for Scott Walker.”
Similar ads have been run by Steve Daines, Republican Senate candidate in Montana, and Scott Brown, Republican Senate candidate in New Hampshire.
There’s just one problem: All the rhetoric in the world doesn’t make up for Republicans opposing and obstructing pro-women policies. It’s not just the repeated attempts to crush reproductive freedom and block equal-pay legislation; Republicans also opposed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. That’s the law that was actually supposed to do something about domestic violence, a law that Republicans blocked for over a year before finally caving and allowing it to pass.
Republicans objected to provisions in the bill that would expand domestic violence protections for Native Americans and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans; they even tried to pass their own version of the bill with these protections stripped out. Ultimately, after a year of obstructionism, Republicans allowed the more expansive and bipartisan Senate version of the act to come up for a vote in the House — and even then, a majority of Republicans voted against the measure.
Fast-forward to election season. Florida Republican Steve Southerland has one of the toughest re-election fights in the country. In the House, Southerland voted against the expanded version of the Violence Against Women Act, the version that ultimately passed, but voted for the narrow Republican version that didn’t pass. Now, Southerland is running an ad featuring a survivor of domestic violence who says, “Our congressman, Steve, is advocating for things like (the) Violence Against Women Act.” Well, kinda sorta but not really, Steve.
Southerland’s opponent, Gwen Graham, had her response ad up within 24 hours, accusing Southerland of “saying one thing in TV ads, doing the opposite in Congress.” Which basically sums up all the attempts of Republicans to appeal to female voters on rhetoric but abandon them on policy.
And to be clear, equal pay and reproductive freedom are also key to preventing domestic violence. As the National Network to End Domestic Violence writes, “Like all women, survivors of domestic violence need equal pay initiatives like the Paycheck Fairness Act. As long as women are paid less than men, most survivors will have less ability to gain financial stability and independence.” Many of these women are low-wage workers, who would also be helped by raising the minimum wage.
And a new study this week finds (PDF) that as many as one in four women who seek an abortion experience violence from an intimate partner. Women often say one primary reason for seeking an abortion is to avoid exposing their children to domestic violence. Another reason: They don’t want to remain tied to an abusive partner. According to this long-term study, when these women are able to access abortion services, their odds of being abused decrease by 7% each month after — while women who can’t get an abortion see their rates of domestic violence remain the same or even increase.
Reproductive choice, including abortion rights, and wage equity, including raising the minimum wage and passing gender-equity legislation, are key not only for all women and their families but for victims and survivors of domestic violence, for whom economic and reproductive freedom translates directly into freedom from abuse.
The Republican Party has do more than just talk about domestic violence and women’s opportunity and actually support the real policies that support women’s freedom and choices — or otherwise, women will keep choosing to vote for Democrats.
By: Sally Kohn, CNN Opinion, October 9, 2014
With the American air campaign against ISIS now expanding into Syria, President Obama updated the nation this morning:
“We were joined in this action by our friends and partners: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, and Qatar. America is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these nations on behalf of our common security. The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone. Above all, the people and governments of the Middle East are rejecting ISIL and standing up for the peace and security that the people of the region and the world deserve.
“Meanwhile, we will move forward with our plan supported by bipartisan majorities in Congress, to ramp up our effort to train and equip the Syrian opposition, who are the best counterweight to ISIL and the Assad regime…
“I’ve spoken to leaders in Congress and I am pleased there is bipartisan support for the action we’re taking. America’s stronger when we stand united and that unity sends a powerful message to the world that we will do what’s necessary to defend our country.”
Obama obviously wants to spread the responsibility around, not only to other countries — which is crucial to having people in the Middle East and the rest of the world see this as a legitimate common enterprise and not simply America imposing its will on the region yet again — but also to his domestic opponents. However, he won’t be getting too many pledges of bipartisanship in return. In fact, it’ll be just the opposite.
Yes, Republicans voted to support part of Obama’s plan for combating ISIL. But even if they make some positive statements about today’s operation (which some have) or future ones like it, for the most part, we’re going to see a repeat of what we saw in the early 2000s: Democrats saying, “Hey, we’re all fighting this battle together,” while Republicans say, “Terrorists are coming to kill us all, and when they do it’ll be those weak Democrats’ fault!”
This morning, Greg noted a new ad from New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown, saying that terrorists are “threatening to cause the collapse of our country,” and it just might happen because Obama and Brown’s opponent, Jeanne Shaheen, are “confused about the nature of the threat.” And if you want an attack with even less subtlety, check out this ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee: http://youtu.be/o1_6gjdqGRQ
Despite the surface similarity between political attacks like those and the ones we saw when George W. Bush was president, there’s a crucial difference. Back then, there was a Republican president taking actions against America’s enemies, while Democrats supposedly didn’t want to protect the country (even if, in reality, elected Democrats gave ample support to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and other elements of the “War on Terror”).
Today, however, it’s a Democratic president who is taking action against terrorists. Even if you believe that action is inadequate, it still creates a fundamentally different impression with the public when they see Tomahawks launching and jets taking off from aircraft carriers on Barack Obama’s orders.
What the public is primarily witnessing right now is a war being waged by the head of the Democratic Party. Twelve years ago, Republicans successfully argued that they were the ones favoring action, while Democrats were a bunch of wimps who wanted to stand on the sidelines. And the Democratic party was deeply divided over Bush’s wars, its own internal arguments only lending credence to the GOP claim that only Republicans would stand up and protect America.
In contrast, no matter how hawkish some Republicans sound right now, they’re in the role of commenting on what the Obama administration is doing, while televisions play images of American military power — again, launched on Obama’s orders — on an endless loop.
So what Republicans are left with is the fear component: Terrorists are coming to kill your children, so vote GOP. That’s not nothing — fear can be effective, and research has shown that reminding people of terrorism and their own mortality can be enough to push some to support more conservative candidates. But it won’t have nearly the power it did in the days after September 11, when Democrats lived in desperate fear that Karl Rove might call them weak.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 23, 2013