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Will 'Obola' Fear-Mongers Sway Voters? Yes, Unless Dems Retake Offense on Economy and Obstruction

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By Mark Green

Republicans are conflating crises as if there's an ISIS terrorist with Ebola at the Border. Lowry and Shrum debate if hitting-the-panic button can work in November and if Dems can counter with good economic news and GOP voter obstruction. Then: Is Panetta patriotic or betraying?

On The Politics of Ebola. It’s life imitating art, seemingly ripped from identical scenes in Outbreak, Contagion and the conclusion of Planet of the Apes, except Gwyneth Paltrow doesn't act as if she's dying -- though tens of thousands of West Africans, at a minimum, actually will.

Based on the news axiom "if-it-bleeds-it-leads" and the cerebral amygdala's acute sensitivity to fear, Bob Shrum and Rich Lowry discuss how the rise of Ebola and ISIS are merging into a national campaign theme of "Be Very Afraid." Will two cases of Ebola in the U.S. and two be-headings abroad kidnap our politics?

Both think they may.

They agree that the U.S. is trying to respond quickly to this sudden epidemic by moving medical personnel and critical supplies to West Africa, as well as 4000 troops for construction of medical facilities, and also providing screening at five major American airports.


Bob a) says the key issue is less what happens in the U.S. than "containing it in West Africa" before it spreads worldwide; and b) complains that Senate Republicans are blocking the shift of a billion dollars from the DoD to West Africa because they care more about border security. [On the politicization of this issue -- just when John McCain is calling for "an Ebola Czar", it would have been nice if Senate Republicans weren't blocking confirmation of Obama's nominee as Surgeon General because the NRA was upset he had called guns a "health issue" since 30,000 die from guns annually.]

Rich a) criticizes Obama for originally saying that it's unlikely Ebola would come to the U.S. (it was unlikely but then it did, says Bob); and b) urges that we establish some travel bans given the potential for a growing calamity, i.e. Ebola becoming "the next AIDS," in the chilling words of CDC director Tom Frieden.

As GOP presidential and senate GOP hopefuls start listing Ebola along with ISIS as reasons for voters to be scared into voting for them, can Democrats push back with good economic news? Bob doubts it because, in this case, fear may conquer hope. Rich doubts that the economic news is good enough because of the low "participation rate." [Host... perhaps because 55 straight months of job growth and a near tripling of the Dow weren't 56 months and a quadrupling? Presumably, if Bush43 had years of job growth rather than months of 700,000 jobs lost, W. would think it a good thing. So Dems: how about campaign ads, signs, at least t-shirts, saying "Speaker Boehner, HERE are the Jobs" and "Dem Eco Growth 2X GOP's" or "3.5 percent vs 1.8 percent: Vote Democrats for Jobs".]

The Politics of Panetta. Former-everything Leon Panetta has written a book -- Worthy Fights -- that's mixed on Obama but the critical parts are causing multiple orgasms on FOX. Bill O'Reilly, for example, gleefully cornered a stammering Panetta attack on the President's competence, judgment, political skills.

Shrum is dismayed Panetta didn't wait to write his book until Obama was no longer president. But now that he has, continues Bob, it's creepy and presumptuous for him to assert that he did it out of "loyalty" to Obama and just wrong to imply that there's gridlock in Congress because Obama lacks Clinton's political skills. "That's not why we don't have immigration reform," he says dismissively.

Lowry agrees that it was better "in bygone eras" when cabinet secretaries would either resign in protest if they disagreed on a matter of principle or wait to publish their memoirs. But in any event, there were few surprises in Worthy Fights since others had already written about Obama supposedly making political rather than military decisions and being more professorial than presidential.

Shrum strongly disagrees. If we had 10,000 troops there now, they'd be more likely to be held hostage by the enemy than defeat them, thereby forcing another 150,000 troop deployment.

Host: remember the hoary joke that Democrats form a firing squad in a circle? Here's Panetta second-guessing his Commander-in-Chief at the start of a war while Messrs. Cheney and Rumsfeld admit nothing in their memoirs despite such stumbles as invading and occupying the wrong country after 9/11. Also, decisions to arm Syrian rebels early when they might include jihadists (say ISIS) and to bully Maliki when he refused to allow U.S. troops to remain there seem 51-49 judgment calls. It's pretty nervy for Panetta now to lecture a president who ran on a platform of withdrawing from such wars.

Here's the larger picture: after hearing Panetta's beltway wisdom that more force = strength and would work "this time," President Obama made the judgment to run on and make national security decisions based on a paradigm different than "might makes right", a judgment that happens to reflect the opinion of the American people after Vietnam and Iraq.

And let's ask ourselves -- would there be an ISIS today if there was never a Dick Cheney? Over to you Secretary Panetta.

On the Politics of Marriage Equality. The Supreme Court this week decided not to review lower courts' decisions overturning gay marriage bans. Lowry questions why the Court abdicated its responsibility by allowing such democratically-enacted laws to be overruled. Shrum applauds what he regards as an inevitable tide toward marriage equality and notes, contrary to Rich's comment, that it IS in the Constitution - "see the 14 Amendment about the equal protection of the laws."

But the Host can't get Lowry to bite and answer about a different tide: viz, will the huge influx of liberal, pro-gay-marriage millennials coming of voting age convince his party's nominee by 2020 to not take dictation from religious social conservatives on this issue. "Ha" he says, saying he can't predict what the nominee will say in two years much less six. [Prediction: nominee in 2016 will favor a ban; in 2020, no, blaming "judicial activism" for making the issue moot.]

On the Politics of Voter Suppression. Speaking of courts, two prominent jurists who influentially upheld an Indiana law requiring Voter ID - Circuit Court Judge Richard Posner and Justice John Paul Stevens (ret.) - recanted their views when it became clear that these laws themselves were the "fraud" since they suppressed millions of voters rather than deterred an infinitesimal number of illegal votes. "

Lowry disputes the low estimates of abuse and says, "This is a reasonable ballot security measure...Get a voter ID! Is that so hard?"" Bob argues that it is for many transient students and elderly minorities. He cites that the GAO estimates the number of suppressed votes to be some 3 million in a presidential general election but, somewhat inconsistently, adds that maybe this year it'll backfire and spur more young and minority voters.

On Checking Out by 75. Consensus! For different reasons, each think Ezekiel Emanuel ridiculous for commenting that he's fine with dying by 75 since that's well past his peak creativity years. Rich argues that every life is precious, an ethic that doesn't vary with one's intelligence or creativity. Bob notes that vibrant 70-somethings - like Pope Francis and John Kerry - may not be at the top of their game but are having a huge impact.

On Ben Carson. Rich predicts that right-wing doctor Ben Carson ("Obamacare is worst thing since slavery" said this African-American) WILL run for president and, by grabbing 15 percent of the far-right vote, be a real factor in the Iowa caucuses. Ok, if he does that well and continues to, could he conceivably be No. 2 on a Republican ticket to appeal more to minority voters? Nooo, both say. Bob: "Black voters are smart about who's on their side."

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

You can follow him on Twitter @markjgreen

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