Column: Please Politicize Ebola

“Politicize” is a jab meaning the other side is trying to capitalize on a news topic. “The Republicans have tried to politicize the border crisis,” says Nancy Pelosi. Reince Priebus says Democrats are trying to politicize Benghazi. Jay Carney says Republicans are trying to politicize Benghazi. Steny Hoyer says Republicans are trying to politicize the VA scandal. Rush Limbaugh says Democrats politicize EVERYTHING.

You get the picture. People who work in politics use politicization as a pejorative. Like a chef sneering at all the cooking going on in the (gasp) kitchen!

Also saying your opponent is politicizing something—is what to say when you hope to politicize something. It’s a “you spot it, you got it” attack.

Put down your hollow barbs, people. We live in a nation where small town police departments immediately use tanks and sound cannons for demonstrations and hospitals hesitate before using hazmat suits for Ebola. We have a problem.

So yes, let’s politicize Ebola. With abandon. With the same kind of passion we normally reserve for football or Pumpkin Spice Oreos.

Why should we do the thing both increasingly identical sides chide so much? We should politicize Ebola because the outbreak is a perfect example of why government dysfunction is needlessly hazardous to our health. And also because when we talk about other deadly pathogens—like the flu which kills thousands of Americans every year—it doesn’t become a trending topic on Twitter for a month. Ebola has people’s attention. So here’s an opportunity:

We don’t have a Surgeon General. Why? Because the GOP doesn’t like to let Obama fill key positions in the government. So when the president nominates ANYONE, by the sheer fact the candidate was nominated by Obama, the Republicans have a problem with said nominee. The man tapped to be America’s Next Top Doctor, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, was opposed by the NRA (also spelled GOP) because he had the gall to suggest guns—which kill tens of thousands of Americans every year—are a health issue.

We don’t have a vaccine for Ebola. Why? Because the GOP reflexively gets into a size-instead-of-function argument when it comes to government. Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, said a decade of budget cuts and—his word—stagnation are the reasons why a vaccine hasn’t been developed yet. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s emergency preparedness budget has been cut in half over that same time. By whom, you ask? The Grand Old Party.

And the (grrr) Democrats, for their part, are horrible at making the case why we need to fund the government. They can’t seem to make the argument to convince the general public that bloodletting government agencies isn’t an awesome idea. Cutting government jobs in a recession with record unemployment? We did that with bipartisan support! #headdesk

So let’s politicize Ebola. Obamacare is the political hot button of the decade. Universal coverage was the goal with Obamacare. We want everyone to be covered. Why? Because it’s healthier for everyone when sick people get care. Period. And nothing demonstrates that better than an Ebola on our shores.

Unfortunately we don’t politicize everything. We stopped politicizing war. Now it’s something everyone in Washington just agrees is a priority. We signed a deal with Afghanistan to have 10,000 troops on the ground for the next decade. There will be children old enough to buy beer who’ve never known an America not at war.

We’re waging wars again on two fronts (if you can call 30,000 ISIS fighters a front, and apparently we do) and Mitch McConnell, who could be the next Senate Majority Leader, gleefully talks about how he’ll shut down the government to force the president to sign shrunken spending bills. If war were politicized, that would be ghastly and abhorrent. But it’s not, so McConnell can just keep his cushy government job.

Part of politicizing is holding people accountable for stupid ideas and decisions.

That’s why some things are and should be politicized. And how our government plans to contain a highly communicable disease is one of them.

This is the moment to ask to properly fund the CDC’s public health emergency preparedness and the NIH’s research.


Image by CDC Global