Who Needs Doctors? Just Shoot The Damn Ebola.
Paranoia, ignorance and rejection of science drive conservative reaction to infectious diseases. Why listen to doctors when you’ve got military brass opining on the subject?
In a CBS News poll taken Oct. 15-16, Democrats were evenly divided on the performance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 49 percent rated the CDC’s performance good or excellent, while 49 percent rated it fair or poor. Republicans, however, gave the agency a clear thumbs down: 64 percent rated the CDC fair or poor; only 35 percent rated it good or excellent. When respondents were asked about the armed forces, the partisan split went the other way: 89 percent of Republicans expressed a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military, compared with 65 percent of Democrats.
This broad, deep political support, particularly among the party faithful, undergirds the Republican response to Ebola. Essentially, the GOP has militarized the issue: Seal the borders, impose a “no-fly zone” on West Africa, and quarantine anyone who shows up at our airports. Those brave doctors returning from Liberia? Lock ’em up. And if the doctors say we’re wrongheaded, tell people that the real authority on Ebola is our generals.
On Oct. 7, Gen. John F. Kelly, the Marine Corps general in charge of the U.S. Southern Command, told a crowd at the National Defense University that “there is no way we can keep Ebola [contained] in West Africa.” If Ebola breaks out in Central America, the general predicted, “there will be mass migration into the United States.” Kelly said he’d been told by a U.S. embassy staffer that some guys who’d been seen waiting to enter Nicaragua from Costa Rica were Liberian and that they “could have made it to New York City and still be within the incubation period for Ebola.” He offered no evidence that the men had Ebola. In fact, the number of verified Ebola cases in Central America was zero. But conservative websites pounced on his statements, reporting that he had said “the real threat of a domestic Ebola outbreak” was a “flood of Ebola-carrying border jumpers.”
Kelly’s statements became a rallying cry on the right. Scott Brown, the Republican Senate candidate in New Hampshire, concluded that Ebola “underscores the need to secure our borders.” When reporters pointed out that medical professionals disagreed with Brown’s advice, the candidate invoked Kelly as his expert.
The 21st Century GOP is the modern equivalent of the Know-Nothing Party. They criticize Ron Klain, Obama’s pick to head up the country’s Ebola response, because he’s not a doctor. But they’d be just fine with a General doing it instead. Makes zero sense, but there it is.