No doubt Ebola is a serious global health issue, but to hear the right-wing media tell it, the one current US case of Ebola, unfortunately contracted by a health care worker, is tantamount to the zombie apocalypse being all but a foregone conclusion. That one case is, according to the fear-mongers, proof positive that the CDC is clueless, its director political and its motives questionable. And, justification that we can't possibly have immigration reform because people who came to the US a decade ago from Mexico and Central America, where there is no known Ebola, are a threat to spread a disease that is raging in some parts of Africa.
None of this type of fear-mongering and hate-baiting is surprising, but it is thought-provoking. In 2004, the right wing ran the same kind of fear stories about gay marriage and the impending destruction of our society. Gay marriage was a wedge issue that helped Bush win reelection and helped the GOP keep the House and Senate. As late as 2008, President Obama himself defined marriage as that between a man and a woman, and won as a democrat.
Yet today, six short years later, gay marriage is legal in 30 states and its universal legality is now only a matter of time. In the same 2008, Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich, an unlikely duo if there ever was one, were jointly making TV ads about the importance of addressing climate change and its threat to our way of life. And now? Even while we know the impact of climate change is much worse than initially expected, and despite national addresses by the president himself, not only is there no congressional action on climate change, news about it is barely covered in any media, even the so called "liberal" mainstream media?
So long as we have a free media, hate and fear will be sold in prime time. But why does the fear sell so well in some areas -- climate change and guns, for example -- and why does common sense and freedom prevail in other areas, like gay marriage?
One answer may be the very personal nature of some issues, vs. the abstract nature of others. Guns have real victims. Real adults and children, in our schools and movie theaters and malls, are shot and killed, seemingly every day. Gay marriage has real champions. Everyday Americans who happen to be gay or lesbian and who want to get married. Virtually all of us know someone who has been affected by gun violence, and some gay or lesbian couple who wants to get married.
But climate change? Name someone you know that has been a "victim" of anthropogenic global warming? It's hard to do, even when the answer is so obvious. You. You're a victim of climate change, and so is everyone you know. It affects all of us, increasingly, ever day. Yet we seem more moved by conditions that affect individual persons rather than all people.
Another likelihood is that it's easier to garner public support for something that doesn't require us to change our day-to-day lives. If the gay couple in the office gets married, it actually doesn't change your life at all. But if you have to drive a smaller car or pay more for gas, it affects your life immediately and perhaps significantly.
Further still, human nature, and by extension governments, are better are responding to catastrophes than we are at preventing them. When a hurricane hits, when Ebola comes to our shores, when a wildfire rages, or a school shooting actually happens, our public and civic institutions almost always (Katrina notwithstanding) respond quickly and effectively. FEMA, the CDC, the American Red Cross, fire departments and so many of our public safety systems are sources of great pride and incredible expertise. It's almost as if protecting society is too abstract, until there are actual victims.
As bad as that sounds, the most effective and sinister reason that fear prevails in some issues is the corruption of politics by big money. Even though gay marriage may offend the narrow-minded sensibilities of a few, there is no industry that profits from stopping marriage equality. But with guns and climate change, there are multibillion-dollar industries that have worked systematically in concert with the hate-selling media to corrode our faith in science and facts and prey to our basest fears. Even where public opinion overwhelmingly supports important legislation, the same influences have worked at every level of our government to pour money into candidates that will support industry-benefiting views over those of the American public.
Our society as a whole is a rational and equality minded bunch. We have, time and again, risen to the occasion when tragedy strikes and to help those denied what we have. We have vanquished every foe, except our own fears that are apparently easily manipulated by the forces of money and power. To those fears, I say this. Climate change and gun violence are tragedies now. There are real victims, now. They deny the most important amongst us, our children, the opportunities we ourselves have enjoyed. So let's rise to the occasion this November and show the forces of fear that when it comes to our children, our will is greater than their wallet.