If you caught any of this Sunday morning’s panel segments, you probably saw the left-of-center guest lamenting the scourge of Republican fear-mongering surrounding the spread of the Ebola virus overseas and in the United States.
It is a theme echoed on Sunday by President Barack Obama who returned to the campaign trail this weekend after taking a week to directly oversee the government’s response to this crisis of Republican invention. He did not go as far as some on the left who have determined that voicing concern over Ebola’s spread from West Africa to the United States is, like virtually everything else, racist, but he did denounce the opposition party for inflating the threat posed by Ebola.
One can safely presume that the president was referring, at least in part, to imposing limited restrictions on travel from the affected regions of Africa to the United States. That is a policy he continues to oppose, but on which his opposition has notably softened since Democrats like Sens. Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mark Warner (D-VA), and candidate Michelle Nunn expressed their support for such a move. Moderating one’s opposition to a program that two-thirds of the public supports is, after all, just good politics.
But Democrats have wanted to have their cake and to also eat it on the issue of Ebola since the crisis began. While prominent members of the president’s party denounce the GOP for fear-mongering over the issue, they also seek to redirect the public’s justifiable apprehension toward Republicans by implying, or stating outright in some cases, that the present emergency is their faults.
On the 12th, the Director of the National Institutes of Health charged that Ebola would likely have been cured by now if only his agency had been granted larger budget increases in recent years. His charge coincided precisely with a liberal group’s release of a 60-second web advertisement which blamed Republicans outright for the spread of Ebola in America. It was not long before the fact checkers tore this assertion apart, and the lead NIH researcher working on an Ebola vaccine determined that it was impossible to blame budget cuts for the nonexistence of a vaccine for a disease which has thus far only been limited to isolated outbreaks in Africa.
A cynic might have said that Democrats who engaged in this strategy were indulging in a bit of fear-mongering themselves. A political party not staring down the barrel of a disastrous election cycle might have given up on this baseless avenue of attack, but desperation is the enemy of shame.
On Monday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a statement attacking Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner for supporting budget cuts to the Centers for Disease Control.
“At a time when our nation is focused on detecting, isolating, and treating, Ebola patients in the United States, Coloradans deserve to know about Congressman Cory Gardner’s inexcusable record that would have harmed our response to Ebola,” the statement read.
This, too, is a profoundly audacious maneuver from this cycle’s most embattled Democratic campaign committee. Even The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein observed that Democrats largely neutralized their own line of attack when they supported scaling back the budgets of America’s health safety institutions.
The complication with this line of attack is that Democrats aren’t entirely innocent when it comes to funding. President Barack Obama has also introduced budgets that call for a reduction in funding for the CDC. In addition, he, along with a large majority of congressional Democrats, signed off on sequestration, which facilitated major reductions of domestic discretionary spending and dramatically hindered the NIH.
Moreover, it was not budget cuts that led CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden to either mislead the public or expose that he has not been adequately informed by his subordinates about the nature of what his agency’s response to Ebola was. It was not budget cuts that led the CDC to insist that the second person who contracted this disease violated protocol when she flew from Texas to Ohio, only to be forced to later concede that the CDC signed off on her travel. It was not budget cuts which prevented the CDC from informing the airline on which this Ebola patient flew that they had a disease carrier on that airplane until it had made five more runs. It was a culture of bureaucratic ineptitude and whitewashing which led this agency to behave like every other federal agency in the midst of a public relations crisis.
If Republicans are stoking any fears, it is in raising the concern that our bloated and unwieldy government is incapable of rising to new challenges like that which was posed by a potentially catastrophic viral outbreak. That is a fear which the public shares, and it strikes at the very heart of the Democratic project.
Politicizing the issue of Ebola in the United States was inevitable. With two weeks left before the midterm elections, railing against politics coloring the national debate is about as productive an expense of energy as is lamenting the Earth’s continued spinning. Duplicity is, however, another matter entirely. In their desperation, Democrats appear happy to attack Republicans for the very behavior in which they are themselves engaging. If the Senate was not in such immediate jeopardy of falling back into Republican hands, the political press might even by offended by this display of brazenness.