2014: The Year of the Pointless Freakout
Policy + Politics

2014: The Year of the Pointless Freakout

Horrific diseases, terrorist attacks, foreign tyrants, and an influx of disease carrying illegal immigrants overwhelming the country…the list of things that was supposed to kill us all in 2014 or at the very least destroy the U.S. economy, is long indeed. But the good news for the U.S. is that, with just a few days to go before the New Year, we look as though we’ll escape pretty much all of the various apocalypses predicted during the past year.

Because, make no mistake, 2014 was the Year of the Pointless Freakout.

Here are five of the biggest overreactions in a year chock full of them.

Ebola: The reaction of the American public to the Ebola threat, worsened by media pandering to politicians eager to fan the flames of panic, may well be looked back on as one of the single most embarrassing episodes in U.S. history.

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Despite a legion of public health professionals on television and other media insisting that the chances of a significant Ebola outbreak in the United States was virtually zero, politicians in Washington as well as candidates running in the November elections were practically standing in line to call for everything from shutting down all air traffic to Africa to sealing U.S. borders against the ostensible threat of Ebola-infected Africans attempting to sneak over the Mexican border.

In the end, the sum total of people infected by Ebola while on American soil was two in 2014. Both were front-line medical personnel, and both survived. There was no Ebola outbreak in the U.S., much less an epidemic.

Rate Shock: The Affordable Care Act has inspired no shortage of overheated rhetoric. From “death panels” to grim predictions about the law striking at the very heart of the Constitution, it’s hard to find some sort of social or economic ill that the law’s opponents didn’t expect it to cause. But the prediction unique to 2014 was the idea of “rate shock.” This was the promise that when people who signed up for coverage in the law’s first year, 2013, went to renew coverage in 2014 they would be blindsided by financially crippling premium hikes.

“This is going to be a pretty startling revelation for a lot of folks,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), a doctor himself, predicted. “I don't think the president has done a good job in preparing people for what is to come.”

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Burgess was speaking in December 2013, and the predictions of rate shock persisted through much of 2014 until the reality – that health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in decades – became so apparent that claiming that rate shock was real became embarrassing for all but the most fact-resistant ACA opponents. Deductibles, however, continue to be higher than employer provided insurance plans.

Illegal immigrants: This summer, the surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern U.S. border enraged those on the left, who disapproved of the treatment the children received in the U.S., and many on the hard right, who thought the kids ought not to be allowed to stay in the country at all.

But one of the most virulent rumors associated with illegal immigration was that those crossing the border were vectors of infections disease. Headlines read: “Illegal Alien Minors Spreading TB, Dengue, Swine Flu.” “Undocumented Immigrants Bringing Diseases Across the Border?”

Members of Congress like Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas complained, “We don’t know what diseases they’re bringing in.”

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At last check neither tuberculosis nor Dengue fever, nor any other exotic diseases were running rampant in the U.S., on the border or anywhere else.

ISIS: The seemingly relentless progress of the terrorist group ISIS in taking over swathes of Iraq and Syria during the summer made it the subject of near-constant media coverage -- much of it wildly overheated in terms of the group’s capabilities and capacity to threaten the U.S.

The number of politicians and “experts” -- including Army General Martin Dempsey -- willing to describe ISIS as an “existential threat” to the United States was particularly distressing, especially to people who own dictionaries. But one quote, from South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, summed up the tenor of the national conversation.

Addressing what he saw as President Obama’s shortfalls on the ISIS question, he said, ““This is a war we’re fighting; it is not a counter-terrorism operation.” Continuing, he said, “This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.”

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Quick headcount: Anybody been killed by ISIS in the U.S.? No? Thought not.

Vladimir Putin: Somewhere around the middle of the summer, after his troops had taken over Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and abetted the beginning of a civil war in eastern Ukraine, all the while blithely defying sanctions from the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin became a sort of dark hero of certain elements of the American political spectrum.

While they deplored his actual actions, they loved his tactics. Putin was “a real leader” and his aggression in Ukraine betrayed the weakness of West – particularly of U.S. President Barack Obama. Putin’s ascent signaled a major realignment of global power, they argued. With Russia reclaiming its role as global superpower.

Fast forward a few months, and Putin is presiding over an economy in free fall. The Russian central bank can’t protect the value of the ruble, and the Russian people have seen the purchasing power of their savings cut in half.

As 2014 closes, Vladimir Putin looks less like a major player on the global stage, and more like a regional dictator trying to preserve enough economic stability to keep his regime on solid footing.

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