Monday, October 20, 2014

Ebola Politics

A recent “Politico” poll shows that 64% of Americans believe that the country is “out of control.”

That sounds about right.

How else do you explain an atmosphere where an Ebola crisis can be turned into a divisive partisan issue?

As you know Congress is in recess until after the mid-terms so that members can spend their time saving their jobs. But several conservative lawmakers have come out of hiding to take political advantage of the fear that is spreading throughout the country.

Their message is simple…and according to polls, effective: “If you fear Ebola vote Republican.” The key talking points focus on the administration’s miss-handling of the crisis, the travel ban and the president’s appointment of a Ron Klain as “Ebola Czar.”

The first point on the Republican agenda is to lay blame. Ebola has reached our shores and the American medical community is neither prepared nor competent to handle the outbreak. Naturally this is the Obama administration’s fault. Never mind that the Republican led House has slashed funding for research, facilities, equipment and supplies that are now woefully inadequate to respond to the crisis.

Next on the list is the travel ban. Republicans are critical of the administration for not imposing a travel ban on flights originating from the African countries that are at the center of the epidemic. Stop those most likely from carrying the virus from reaching our shores. That sounds logical. 67% of Americans agree. Except that every medical expert interviewed has said that a travel ban will not effectively keep the virus from coming to America. In fact medical experts say that it will make it more difficult to identify those who carrying the virus.

The consensus within the medical community is that the key to stopping the spread of Ebola lies in eradicating the disease in Africa. The key to accomplishing that goal is to get enough workers, supplies and equipment into Africa to successfully combat the disease. Experts say that by restricting the ability of aid workers to travel you will diminish the results. Aid workers who would willingly travel to those areas will reconsider out of concerns of not being allowed to return home. Fewer aid workers means that the flow of supplies and equipment into the area is will be hampered. Leaving travel lanes open allows you to better identify, test, treat and quarantine those that may be traveling with the virus. If you impose a travel ban these people will find other ways of entering the country undetected; spreading the virus as they go.

Finally there is the objection to the president’s appointment of Ron Klain as Ebola Czar. Klain’s responsibility will be to co-ordinate the efforts of the numerous government agencies working on the Ebola crisis. Klain is a political operative with no medical experience. He is a member of Obama inner circle in whom the president has a great deal of trust. Certainly the choice of a non-medical political friend is questionable. Perhaps the president would have been better served finding a non-partisan medical expert that could appeal to both sides of the aisle. That said the best person to co-ordinate the fight against Ebola would be the Surgeon General.

The problem is we don’t have one.

Republicans have blocked the president’s nominee for the post, Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, for over a year. Why…because the NRA does not approve of Dr. Murthy’s views on gun control. Dr. Murthy has expressed his support of a ban on assault weapons and limitations on ammunition; all taboo in the eyes of the NRA. The NRA has threatened to “score” the vote on his confirmation. Translation…anyone voting to support Dr. Murthy’s nomination will feel the wrath of the all powerful NRA come election time. Sixteen month later we are still waiting.

This all boils down to a simple political message: Ebola is scary. The Democrat president is incapable of handling it. Vote Republican. The message is as effective as it is disingenuous.

And it appears that it will play a key role in the outcome of this year’s elections.

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