In U.S., Ebola Turns From A Public Health Issue To A Political One Conservative critics of the Obama administration are linking Ebola to border security and a broader mistrust of the president. Some accuse liberals of letting the disease into the U.S. intentionally.
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In U.S., Ebola Turns From A Public Health Issue To A Political One

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In U.S., Ebola Turns From A Public Health Issue To A Political One

In U.S., Ebola Turns From A Public Health Issue To A Political One

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It was only a matter of time before Ebola would become a political issue. The diagnosis of the first case of the disease in the U.S. has amplified talk among conservatives about immigration and border control. It's also added heat to ongoing criticisms of the Obama administration and, as NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports, criticism of government as a whole.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: It took less than a week after Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed with Ebola at a Dallas hospital for Texas Governor Rick Perry to call for the immediate screening and establishment of quarantine facilities across America's borders.

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GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: These much-needed screening procedures will also necessitate fully staffed, prepared quarantine stations wherever people are entering the country.

GOODWYN: Governor Perry, who is widely considered to be contemplating another run at the presidency, is not alone in connecting Ebola to border control. Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul are talking about travel bans for everyone from West Africa. Other Republican leaders would like to make those travel bans permanent. Ebola is feeding an already intense anger among conservatives. Former Arkansas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's sentiments are characteristic.

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FORMER GOVERNOR MIKE HUCKABEE: When the government says it can't keep people out of the U.S., what it means is that it won't keep people out. And why should we be surprised? We've seen our borders routinely ignored. So if someone with Ebola really wants to come to the U.S., just get to Mexico and walk right in.

GOODWYN: While border control is an important element to conservatives' perception of the Ebola state of affairs, there are others. One is their long-standing suspicion of government competence. And among Tea Party Republicans, there's the visceral loathing of President Obama. One theory making the rounds is that liberals, which includes the administration, actually want Ebola to spread across America as punishment for the sin of slavery because Liberia, where Thomas Eric Duncan was from, was originally designed to be a country for former American slaves. Here's Rush Limbaugh.

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RUSH LIMBAUGH: Do not doubt me on this, folks. There are people in this country who believe that this is ultimately traced back to us because of our slavery. We kind of deserve a little bit of this. Make no mistake. That is leftist, political correct thinking. The danger we have now is that we've elected people who think this.

GOODWYN: This sense of betrayal is not to be underestimated. Radio host Michael Savage coined the president's latest, unflattering, conservative nickname, President Obola.

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MICHAEL SAVAGE: There is not a sane reason to bring infected children into a nation other than to infect the nation. There is not a sane reason to take 3,000 or 4,000 troops and send them into a hot Ebola zone without expecting at least one of them to come back with Ebola unless you want to infect the nation with Ebola. Do you understand what I'm saying to you? Do you have any idea what this rises to? It rises to level of treason. It actually exceeds any level of treason I've ever seen.

GOODWYN: High-octane rhetoric is a daily staple of right-wing talk. But according to Rice University political science professor Bob Stein, these conservative rants should not be ignored. For the last month, Stein has been conducting political polling of Texas voters for NPR member station KUHF. Stein says rightly or wrongly, Ebola is frightening voters here.

BOB STEIN: An insidious disease that we can't see or smell but nonetheless still comes across our borders and in Texas, people on the talk radio shows talk about how Ebola evolves or mutates or morphs into an airborne disease.

GOODWYN: Like global warming science, many Republicans are skeptical about the information they're getting from the CDC or Ebola experts anywhere else, for that matter. Stein says the last 10 days and especially since yesterday after Thomas Eric Duncan died, there's been an uptick among voters that the country is in peril. And it's not just Republicans who are being affected. Democratic voters in Texas are also being swayed by the latest reports of American insecurity.

STEIN: As people begin to see that in the White House the president can't be protected, that our borders are being besieged with people who may have diseases like Ebola, even when our citizens try to do good overseas, they get beheaded by Islamic militants.

GOODWYN: The Rice professor says if there are more cases of Ebola, the Democrats' political health may suffer as well. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

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