In politics, as in life, things are always changing. There was a time when the last few weeks before an election were referred to as “the silly season,” for the ridiculous claims and promises spouted by desperate candidates. But “silly” doesn’t really capture the mood anymore. It’s probably time to switch to the “grossly irresponsible season.”
No, it doesn’t have the same alliterative ring to it, but how else to refer to a time when men and women running for positions of public trust are not just bad-mouthing their opponents, but are undertaking a campaign of public fear-mongering and disinformation that is unprecedented in recent history?
The threats, of course, are the Ebola virus, which is currently ravaging three countries in West Africa, and the terror group ISIS, which has taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria, murdering and torturing thousands of innocents in their wake. The bow tying this package of horrors together in a fetid bouquet is the continued angst among some conservatives over the state of security on the Southern border.
In campaign ads and speeches, Republican candidates are pounding home the idea – dismissed by public health experts – that illegal immigrants infected with Ebola are threatening to bring the frightening hemorrhagic fever to the U.S. At the same time, they are flogging the idea – dismissed by national security experts – that ISIS is planning to attack the U.S. by crossing the Mexican border.
Scott Brown, the former Senator from Massachusetts now trying to win a Senate seat in New Hampshire, recently attacked his Democratic opponent Sen. Jean Shaheen on the issue of border security, claiming that she has done too little to secure U.S. borders and suggesting that Ebola entering the U.S. could be a consequence.
In Arkansas, Rep. Tom Cotton, who is threatening to unseat Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, said, “Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism,” said “They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas.” On October 10, The Washington Post Fact Checker gave Cotton 4 Pinocchios for his statement.
If the idea that ISIS leaders, currently being bombed in Syria and Iraq while trying to hold the territory they’ve thus far taken, are contemplating a raid on Little Rock seems far-fetched, it was topped by North Carolina Senate candidate Thom Tillis, who wants to unseat vulnerable Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.
Tillis went for the twofer last week, suggesting that ISIS would bring Ebola across the border in a sort of biological attack on the U.S. “Sen. Hagan has failed the people of North Carolina and the nation by not securing our border…. Ladies and Gentlemen: we have an Ebola outbreak; we have bad actors who can come across the border. We need to seal the border and secure it.”
To stipulate: Ebola and ISIS are both terrible and dangerous. The one is a terrifying force of nature, like a tsunami or forest fire, that destroys indiscriminately. The other is a man-made and man-driven force that is hard to describe as anything other than evil.
Neither one, though, despite the claims of numerous Republican politicians running in the November elections, is an existential or imminent threat to the United States.
Ebola, in the United States, would be frightening, but not widely dangerous. We have a strong public health infrastructure and the means of educating the public about how to avoid infection – something sorely lacking in West African nations being ravaged by the disease right now.
Even some officials whom one would expect to be calm and level headed about the issue, have raised alarms. Recently, Marine Corps General John F. Kelly said that an Ebola outbreak in Latin America – an event whose likelihood is itself unclear at best – might spark massive northward immigration and the introduction of infected illegals.
A Pentagon press release issued in response pointed out that military officers are trained to consider all possibilities. “That’s what General Kelly is doing,” it read.
ISIS is unquestionably evil and dangerous. But the group’s current capacity to do damage to the United States is, to say the least, limited. Could a single terrorist, of even a small group, cross the border and create havoc? Yes. Could they kill Americans? Yes. But do they present the sort of existential threat to the country that Republicans are claiming?
Like Ebola, unless you don’t understand the meaning of the word “existential,” the answer is clearly, “No.”
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