Elections in the Time of Ebola

Only two people have been infected with the Ebola virus in the United States. Still, anyone following the political debates prior to the November Legislature election would think that we are facing a national epidemic.

The candidates, hoping to stay in the headlines, have turned the topic into a weapon against their opponents, and use it to demand measures that, if looked closely, do not make much sense.

It is true that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were wrong in believing that all U.S. hospitals were prepared for strict quarantine. The victims in both cases of infection in U.S. territory were nurses who were in close contact with an Ebola patient.

This error allowed Democrats to blast Republicans for cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for the CDC and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in their campaign to reduce the budget deficit. It is unclear if those funds would actually make people safer in the United States.

For their part, Republicans resorted to isolation measures, calling for the suspension of all flights coming from African countries affected by the disease.

The fact is that there are no direct flights from Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone into the U.S. However, that didn’t stop desperate Democrat candidates such as Kay Hagan from North Carolina from joining the proposal.

Ebola is often used by Republicans to attack President Obama and Democratic legislators. “Whether it is the IRS, the border, veterans or Ebola…”, repeat Republicans endlessly as they go over their list of supposed scandals and crises that — like the disease — were no such thing.

Politicians know that part of the population can be susceptible to irrational fear, as was the case of the group of parents who forced the principal of a Mississippi middle school to take a vacation. The school’s director had recently traveled to Zambia, a country located in the south of the African continent, thousands of miles away from the areas affected by Ebola.

Ebola appears capable of causing an epidemic in countries with poor sanitation systems. In the U.S., what is poor is the political discourse espoused by people who hope to get elected by scaring voters with lies and innuendos.