Republicans and Democrats Exploit Ebola Crisis For Political Gain

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The recent Ebola crisis came just in time for midterm elections this year, and Republicans and Democrats have been using it to their advantage. The World Health Organization has reported 4,912 deaths from the virus and 10,000 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases as of October 23rd, with Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone hit the hardest. Though an Ebola outbreak has been ravaging West Africa for months, concern about the virus didn’t peak in the United States until September 30th, when the first case on U.S. soil cropped up in Texas.

It didn’t take long for politicians to pounce.

Republicans have predictably blamed Obama

Rep. Tom Cotten, who’s running for Senate in Arkansas, accused Obama of “not protecting our country and our families from Ebola.” Republican Senate hopeful Cory Gardner in Colorado criticized Obama for having, “no strategy to deal with the Ebola virus.”

They’ve also managed to insert their typical talking points into the conversation about Ebola.

Ebola = Immigration

For Republicans, Ebola and immigration are the same issue. Sen. Pat Robets, running for re-election in Kansas, claims that it’s a matter of America’s porous border: “Ebola, ISIS, or 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.” On the campaign trail in North Carolina, Republican Senate contender Tom Tillis said, “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.”

Democrats retort that Republican budget cuts are to blame

Rep. Gardner’s senatorial opponent in Colorado, Democrat Mark Udall, accused Gardner of trying to cut $770 million from the CDC budget—a cut that he claims would have hindered the agency’s ability to handle the Ebola crisis. In Iowa, Democratic Senate candidate Bruce Braley attacked his Republican opponent, Joni Ernst, for supporting, “a radical plan to shut down the federal government,” a plan that would “dramatically cut funding” from the CDC and the National Institutes of Health.

Both parties have used the crisis to posture as the party with stronger leadership– the one that’s better able to protect U.S. citizens from an imminent health threat. But, their hyperbolic statements about Ebola have only served to panic the American people. Only three cases have been diagnosed in the U.S., and health experts continue to assure Americans that modern health care and disease-control systems will prevent the same kind of outbreak affecting West Africa. But, the political fear-mongering– like Agenda Project Action Fund’s commercial flashing images of body bags between clips of Republicans calling for budget cuts– has been a louder. Recent polls show that, despite its unlikelihood, two-thirds of Americans fear a widespread Ebola outbreak in the U.S.

The politicization of Ebola also put pressure on White House hopefuls, NY Gv. Andrew Cuomo and NJ Gov. Chris Christie to issue strict quarantines for aids workers returning from West Africa to protect their reputations in anticipation of the 2016 election. The 21- day quarantine issued by Gov. Chrisite directly conflicts with advice from health experts battling the virus. Health experts warn against travel restrictions, arguing that open borders are important for combating the virus at its source in West Africa, as the area’s success in containing Ebola depends largely on foreign aid. WHO spokesman Gregory Harl says, “We have been reiterating at every opportunity that we do not recommend travel and trade restrictions. We need outsiders to get in to combat this outbreak. We need expert logisticians, epidemiologists, communications experts. If the flights are being cut off they can’t get in.”

Unfortunately, messages from health experts about the unlikeliness of a U.S. Ebola outbreak and the importance of leaving borders open to combat the virus have been drowned out by the politically charged rhetoric surrounding the midterm elections.


Contact the author:
Jennifer Swanson
[email protected]



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