Brett Hulsey a bigger threat to us than Ebola — seriously

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think “Ebola” was a hot new Miley Cyrus album that’s dropping later this fall in time for the holiday shopping season. Indeed, much like Cyrus’ career, it’s a frightening and off-putting phenomenon that has nevertheless killed very few people in this country and made a handful of others bleed out of their eyes and ears.

And just like an attention-starved pop star, it’s getting a lot more media coverage than it deserves.

Now, maybe you’re thinking, “Oh, what poor taste! Why is this fat-headed churl making light of this terrible disease?”

And you’re right, to a point. It’s not funny. It’s a serious problem in some African nations, where it’s spread because of a variety of factors that we don’t really need to worry about here. But by all serious accounts, it’s not — and is very unlikely to become — a problem in the U.S.

So someone has to make light of this overblown media scare in order to bring some perspective to the table, don’t you think? If you’ve ever joked that your unhealthy meal is a “heart attack on a plate” (heart disease is responsible for nearly 600,000 U.S. deaths per year), told people that you almost drove off the road after seeing something odd or unexpected (traffic accidents — more than 33,000 U.S. deaths per year), or said that you’re having a “senior moment” (Alzheimer’s disease — more than 80,000 deaths), then this small bit of gallows humor in response to the unhinged panic over Ebola, which has been responsible for one U.S. death from 1776 to present, shouldn’t really faze you.

But the thing about fear — and any psychologist will tell you the same thing — is that we underestimate the dangers of ordinary phenomena while overly dreading novel and poorly understood threats. And since “the news” is all about novelty, Ebola is a headline-grabber, while the guy in Waunakee who dies in his bathtub because he ate Funyuns instead of oatmeal for breakfast every day for three decades is unlikely to get any media coverage — unless his family blames his death on Obamacare, in which case Sean Hannity will air an exclusive in-studio interview with the guy’s corpse every day until Christmas, or until said corpse is no longer distinguishable from Bill O’Reilly, whichever comes first.

We’re also less afraid when we think we have some control over our own fate, which is why we’re more afraid of flying than we are of driving, even though we’re far more likely to die if we drive across the country than if we fly.

So this Ebola scare is tailor-made for politicians, who tend to drill down as far into our primal reptilian brains as they can, tweaking our overtaxed amygdalas until we’re puddles of quivering goo.

And it’s absolutely perfect for the pre-midterm Republican scare-fest: “Hey, there’s this new, horrible disease. It’s mysterious and fatal. And it’s from Africa! You know, that scary place where our president was born!”

So you have Republicans across the country — and their pals in the media — jumping on the Ebola-panic bandwagon, hoping to turn this overhyped story into votes. In fact, our own Scott Walker, who finds himself in an unexpectedly tight race with Democrat Mary Burke, recently called for a commercial travel ban for West African countries most affected by Ebola, even though every credible expert has said such a ban would make absolutely no sense and would likely be counterproductive.

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted in its story on Walker’s proposal:

Critics of the proposed federal travel ban say it would be ineffective and detrimental because potentially infected people would go underground to avoid detection, and would sneak through borders to avoid the travel ban. They also note that there are no direct flights to the United States from West Africa; any travelers from the hardest hit African countries would have to stop somewhere else first.

So in other words, as usual, Walker is hoping you don’t know all that much about things and stuff. (But hey, even if you’re no longer forced to bring your voter ID to the polls, the least you can do is take your fear with you.)



Honestly, though, you should be more worried about Brett Hulsey’s announcement last week that he’s running as a write-in independent candidate in the Nov. 4 election than you should about Ebola. Hulsey hangs around like the shingles virus. Ebola just kills you. Worst of all, if the race comes down to a photo finish, Hulsey voters — who would likely otherwise back Burke — could conceivably throw the election to Walker.

And as you may know, one of Walker’s most boneheaded moves as governor was refusing federal funding to expand Medicaid. But he was hardly alone. Twenty-five states did likewise, and according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, their refusal to expand insurance coverage was likely to lead to thousands of deaths in 2014.

So let’s take a tally: Ebola — one death, not in Wisconsin. Refusal of Medicaid expansion — likely thousands of deaths, some of which are almost certain to occur in Wisconsin.

Scott Walker continues to defend his decision. Mary Burke would reverse it.

In a very close election, Hulsey — who received 16.6% of the vote in the August Democratic primary — could return Walker to the governor’s mansion.

And for some in our state, that could be a deadly serious setback.

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