Three weeks before Election Day, Republicans are hoping to rally the GOP faithful and cripple President Barack Obama with a scary, one-word campaign ploy: Ebola. With news that a second health care worker who cared for an Ebola patient at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas has contracted the virus, some Republicans are moving quickly to blame Obama and the White House for not working hard enough to protect Americans from the deadly disease.
Amber Joy Vinson, the second Dallas health-care worker diagnosed with Ebola, traveled Monday on a Frontier Airlines flight from Cleveland to Dallas to plan a wedding, so health officials announced Wednesday they are contacting the 132 passengers from the flight to alert them as a precaution. Vinson, who is Black, joins 75 other health care workers in Dallas who are already being monitored for any Ebola symptoms.
Vinson was flown to Emory Hospital in Atlanta for treatment Wednesday. For Republicans, nothing is sacred so while it may not surprise pundits that some in the GOP are trying to capitalize on the Ebola outbreak before the mid-term elections, it’s still a despicable campaign strategy. The GOP has been critical of the White House response to the Ebola crisis, turning it into a campaign issue and calling for stricter travel restrictions for people coming to the United States from West Africa. Two Republicans wrote to President Obama on Monday urging him to appoint an Ebola “czar” but the White House rebuffed the idea.
This particular Republican scare tactic is sinister because Republicans know Obama can’t control a deadly virus that is raging out of control in West Africa, but it plays on the fears of conservative voters who never liked Obama anyway. The GOP is portraying Obama as a weak leader who can’t – or won’t — control the spread of Ebola.
There’s a lot at stake: With national mid-term elections scheduled for Nov. 4, Republicans could take control of the Senate – and control Congress. Vulnerable Democratic candidates in places like Kentucky, North Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana are targets for Republicans and the Ebola crisis strategy could play well in these southern states. Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, likened the White House to a rudderless ship in its handling of the Ebola crisis.
“My constituents are not comforted,” McCain said during an appearance on CNN. “There has to be more reassurance given to them. I would say that we don’t know exactly who’s in charge.”
It’s a ridiculous accusation and there’s also a thinly veiled racial component that is whispered in some circles around Washington, D.C.: Some black Democrats say the GOP is sending a subtle message that Obama, who is half Kenyan, will not agree to tougher travel restrictions on people from Africa, simply because he is African and feels a particular connection to the continent. This further perpetuates anxiety among some ultra-conservatives who still believe Obama is a Muslim who favors people of color.
But here’s what we know: Obama receives daily updates about the Ebola outbreak and he has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to move as quickly as possible in investigating the apparent breach of infection control procedures at the Texas hospital where patient Thomas Duncan died from Ebola. On Wednesday, Obama postponed a political trip to stay at the White House to convene a Cabinet-level meeting about the Ebola outbreak.
U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) correctly shot down the notion of a Republican-backed travel ban.
“Those like Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) have suggested instituting a travel ban to and from West Africa. This idea may seem like a quick fix but in reality, isolating West Africa will only exacerbate the epidemic in the region,” Moore said in a statement. “Aside from being impractical, this reactionary strategy will force Ebola patients underground making it nearly impossible to track their movements, hinder the capacity for international healthcare workers to transport and administer critical aid, and erode the continent’s fragile economy.” “If Senator Johnson and his colleagues are looking for a silver bullet to address Ebola,” Moore added, “they will be sorely disappointed to learn that such a thing doesn’t exist.”
Meanwhile, Obama says he’ll also reach out directly to heads of state to encourage other countries to do more to fight Ebola. More than 4,000 people have died from Ebola this year in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. And there could be 10,000 new Ebola cases per week in the three countries by the end of this year as the outbreak spreads, the World Health Organization warned Tuesday.
“As soon as someone is diagnosed with Ebola, we want a rapid response team, a SWAT team, essentially, from the CDC, to be on the ground as quickly as possible, hopefully within 24 hours, so they are taking the local hospital step by step through exactly what needs to be done,” Obama said after meeting with top health officials at the White House. And Obama also delivered a sobering warning to world leaders.
“I am absolutely confident that we can prevent a serious outbreak of the disease in the United States,” Obama said. “But it becomes more difficult to do so if this epidemic of Ebola rages out of control in West Africa. If it does, then it will spread globally in an age of frequent travel and the kind of constant interactions that people have across borders. There are a number of countries that have capacity that have not yet stepped up,” he said. “Those that have stepped up, all of us, are going to have to do more.”
But, in the meantime, Republican fear tactics may be working. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows the vast majority of Americans want travel entry restrictions put into place. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they are concerned about an Ebola outbreak in the United States.
Make no mistake, I’m deeply concerned about the spread of Ebola, too, but here’s the bottom line: Obama is no more responsible for the spread of Ebola than he is for the acceleration of global warming. Just how many worldwide catastrophes can be blamed on one Black president?
What do you think?