There’s a new meme emerging on the right which I’ve noticed in the last 24 hours. It goes like this: The ‘government’ or President Obama promised Ebola wouldn’t or couldn’t get to the United States. But now it’s here. So people, the argument goes, are rightly worried that the ‘government’ is lying to them or isn’t telling them the whole story. In other words, when you see the next ignoramus on Fox News jonesing on about how he’s not going to be a patsy for the virology elite, that’s the story.
I’ve now heard it on Fox, in National Review and a few other outlets. It’s hard for me to tell whether this is simply lying about what various officials including the President have said, ignorance of how contagious diseases (and particularly Ebola) work or just a blase willingness to fan hysteria. Unfortunately it seems like all three.
I have heard from a few readers that Chris Matthews is in full crisis mode too. So perhaps it’s not confined to the right. But there is a mix of animosity to the government and fear of it that seems to make this line of thinking particularly intense on the right.
The prospect of an airborne viral contagion in a major American city in an era of pervasive international travel is deeply worrisome. But Ebola is not an airborne virus. It’s not shocking that a victim reached the US. And all the available evidence – both general and particular – suggests that aggressive public health measures and quarantine should be able to contain or halt entirely the spread from this one person. Indeed, in one of the most encouraging developments to date, Nigeria – even with its vastly inferior public health infrastructure – appears to have contained its Ebola outbreak with aggressive quarantine and other containment efforts.
Infectious diseases are scary – particularly airborne infectious diseases which are by definition more difficult to contain than those spread by bodily fluids. But effective public health and infectious disease containment measures are an amazing thing. So it’s particularly unfortunate when people’s rage and ignorance about ‘government’ intersect with this kind of important work. Disease containment and culture war nonsense and paranoia are a bad combination.
Life is neither fair nor always terribly safe. My mother died in an auto accident when she was 37. I could get run over by a car when I go home from work today. And you could too. But we’re very unlikely to get sick from Ebola, especially here in the United States.