Despicable. That’s the only word for it.
I refer to the recent official email “Responding to the Ebola Crisis” of October 17 from my congressional representative, Bob Goodlatte, of Virginia’s 6th District.
It begins by stating that “Ebola now spreading in the United States is of extreme concern [emphasis added].” The update then goes on to imply that millions of Americans have lost or will lose their health care under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). To connect the dots, which Rep. Goodlatte leaves to the reader, ostensibly to retain a fig leaf of decency: You may get Ebola, and if you do, you may not have health care.
Fact Check 1: Two medical health workers — let me repeat, two — have contracted Ebola in the U.S. Both were treating Thomas Duncan, who contracted the disease in Liberia, not in the U.S. Both medical workers have recovered.
Fact Check 2: The Rand Corporation has estimated a net gain of 9.3 million insured adults as of mid-March 2013 due to Obamacare. The figure does not include roughly 3 million young adults who gained coverage due to the provisions that children may remain on their parents’ policy through age 26.
Wherever there is fear whip up, the Republican Party is sure to exploit it. On September 17, MSNBC reported that the GOP is also stoking fears of an imminent invasion of our borders by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syrian (ISIS). Kentucky Senator Rand Paul called for securing the borders to prevent “ISIS infiltration,” even as former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown claimed that ISIS is “actually coming through the border now.”
So apparently Rep. Goodlatte letter was simply following GOP marching orders to frighten the hell out of the American public just before the November 4 election, in the hopes of literally scaring up some votes.
Still, it’s pretty damn bold to simultaneously cry “wolf” and “the sky is falling.” Yes, Ebola and ISIS are both concerns. Neither is a crisis in the U.S.; nowhere close.
On the other hand, the GOP is perfectly happy to overlook, deny, and obfuscate a bona fide, gold-plated, unfolding crisis: climate change. More than two thousand lives were lost due to hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. We’ve experienced killer tornados in increasing frequency, vast tracts of forest devastated by larger-and-larger wildfires, record droughts, rising seas, and 100-year floods occurring on 20-year intervals. While no single extreme weather event can be directly linked to a warming climate, climate models predict that such events will become more frequent as the climate warms. Insurance company payouts confirm these predictions. Katrina, the costliest hurricane in US history, wracked up $148 billion in property damages. Two billion dollars invested in levee repairs could have spared not only that expense but also the 1833 lives lost and 126,000 homes “severely damaged or destroyed.”
The mantra of the current Tea-Party-fueled GOP is “[Shrink] government [until] we drown it in the bathtub.” Consequently, across-the-board gutting of government funding is good (unless it involves the military). But such budget slashing, as in the case of Katrina, has consequences. For example, last week, the usually politic Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), created a furor when he opined that we’d probably have had an Ebola vaccine by now if the NIH’s programs hadn’t been severely curtailed by $5 billion in budget cuts over the last decade.
Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.
At so many levels, the attitudes and actions of today’s GOP are despicable: buying elections with hundreds of millions of dollars in dark and dirty money, much of it from front organizations funded by the ultra-libertarian Koch brothers; resurrecting Jim Crow laws in the guise of voter ID; fanning the embers of racism; creating fictitious crises while ignoring real ones; utter disregard for science and disdain for scientists; blind adherence to the failed neoliberal economics of scarcity and austerity that have hollowed the middle class and produced the greatest income disparity since the Great Depression; recklessness in war; fear-mongering; refusal to invest in infrastructure or the future; and promotion of the flagrant lie (“Obama is not a citizen,” “Obamacare will result in death panels”).
But, the most egregious offense of today’s GOP is its cynical game plan, as articulated by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell at a GOP retreat just prior to Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Most new presidents are granted a “honeymoon.” McConnell set out to destroy the new president on Day One. He first observed that there were enough Republicans in Congress, despite their being in the minority at the time, to block Obama’s agenda “so long as we march in lockstep.” Then came the punch line:
As long as Republicans refused to follow [Obama’s] lead, Americans would see partisan food fights and conclude that Obama had failed to produce change.
McConnell’s plan, which Republicans have executed flawlessly for almost 6 years, essentially bets that the American public is so gullible and easily manipulated that it will reward the GOP for breaking our democracy.
If the polls are correct — which predict the GOP will narrowly retake the Senate — then Mitch McConnell, for once in his life, is right.
The author's book Reason and Wonder: A Copernican Revolution in Science and Spirit (Praeger, 2012) further explores the interface between science, mythology, spirituality, and meaning. According to Ursula King of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Bristol, Dave Pruett's Reason and Wonder (Praeger, 2012) "opens up [an expansive worldview] of true audacity and grandeur that will change your thinking forever."