Ebola is the new Africanized honeybee

Remember the uproar and terrified hysterics over the invasion of “Africanized” honeybees coming up from Mexico? For a couple of years it seemed like the poor old average European honeybee was doomed by the hyper-aggressive foreign replacement.

Never mind that the entire threat was far overwrought and overhyped by xenophobic politicians and news media. And never mind that the real threat to the European honeybee wasn’t an “Africanized” invader, but extinction due to corporate domestic pesticide poisoning. It’s almost a perfect metaphor for American politics writ large.

Well, there’s a new “African” terror for the xenophobes to chew over. Move over, honeybee, ebola is the new craze for conservative and press hyperbole:

For once, President Barack Obama and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are on the same page. At separate briefings on the Ebola crisis, Obama administration officials and Perry have delivered the same message: Don’t panic — the health authorities know what they’re doing.
But for other Republicans — and conservative media outlets — it’s time for panic.

The likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates — except for Perry — are practically lining up to warn that the Obama administration isn’t doing enough to keep Ebola out of the United States, now that Dallas is dealing with the nation’s first confirmed case.

Lest I seem insensitive, let me be clear: the ebola virus is dangerous, and it’s a horrific disaster in West Africa where medical and government public health infrastructure is often unable to deal with outbreaks, leading to the deaths of thousands.

But it’s not terribly dangerous to the United States. Ebola is not easily communicable, and American public health infrastructure so far has more than enough capability to quarantine and treat any outbreak without the need for desperate measures or punitive travel restrictions. The average American is still far likelier to die by lightning strike than by ebola.

But much as the poor old honeybee ended up far more threatened by pesticides than by foreign invaders, so too does America have far more to fear from income inequality and climate change than the ebola virus. Or ISIS, for that matter.

But scary foreign invaders from “other there” capture the xenophobic imagination, and provide easy targets for unscrupulous hucksters in politics and media alike.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.