In the closing stages of this year’s insipid, undistinguished midterm elections, Republicans are making hay while the disaster shines. In Washington, D.C., Speaker of the House John Boehner has taken to prodding President Obama for his refusal to institute a “ban on travel to the United States from countries afflicted with the [Ebola] virus,” a message that has been picked up elsewhere by Senate candidates Joni Ernst, Mike Rounds, Thom Tillis, and David Perdue. In New Hampshire, senatorial candidate Scott Brown has been asking aloud whether the “porous” southern border represents a potential medical threat. Fox News, meanwhile, has run the debate on a loop.
The agitation has provoked an exasperated reaction in the more cynically partisan quarters of the left-leaning media. “Republicans Want You to Be Terrified of Ebola—So You’ll Vote for Them,” exclaimedTheNew Republic’s Brian Beutler yesterday, while, in the New York Times, Jeremy Peters grumbled that “playing off feelings of anxiety is a powerful strategy for motivating the Republican base.” At the Washington Post, the ever-reliable Greg Sargentcast the move as just one part of the GOP’s dastardly “fear-based midterm strategy.” Thus did a trio that has of late panicked publicly about the supposed return of Jim Crow, the impending end of the world, and an approaching government shutdown accuse their ideological opponents of unwarranted fear-mongering.
Whether or not Ebola constitutes a real enough threat to the United States to justify the Republican party’s stance remains to be seen. Politics being politics, it is entirely possible that the GOP has observed a certain anxiety in the public and jumped on it for electoral profit. Nevertheless, rather than rolling their eyes, progressives might take a moment to inquire as to exactly why the charge is landing. Is it that Republicans are uniquely predisposed to hysteria, and that their representatives are uniquely cynical? Or is it that disquieted voters, already skeptical of the potency of the state, have of late been given few reasons to amend their suspicion. The question of what sort of risk Ebola presents aside, fretting about the federal government’s capacity to handle basic tasks seems to me to be a reasonable reaction to its record so far. Is nobody interested in this question?