The right's "Obama Derangement Zone": ISIS, Ebola and a GOP breakdown

Crises involving Muslims and Africa let the GOP terrify its base about that African Muslim who won’t keep us safe

Published October 10, 2014 4:40PM (EDT)

Rand Paul                                       (AP/Stephan Savoia)
Rand Paul (AP/Stephan Savoia)

The twin terrors of Ebola and ISIS have now entered the Obama Derangement Zone, and it’s likely to get worse every day until the November election.

There’s certainly room for debate about the president’s handling of both crises, but since they play into ancient GOP fear-mongering about Obama – the guy the Daily Caller named “President Ebola,” get it? – Republicans can’t keep that debate sane or civil. Two crises that genuinely involve Muslims and Africa are irresistible to ruthless ideologues who’ve spent the last seven years insisting Obama was an African Muslim socialist who wouldn’t keep us safe, because he wasn’t one of us.

Sen. David Vitter opposes the administration’s latest Ebola plan because “it focuses on Africa” – which is where the crisis exists, by the way – “and largely ignores our own borders.” Meaning Obama isn’t paying enough attention to the GOP’s primary obsession, keeping out non-white immigrants. Crazy Phyllis Schlafly wins a fruitcake for saying Obama doesn’t really want to stop Ebola because he wants to make the U.S. “more like Africa.”

Even the more sober Sen. Rand Paul, last seen verging on Ebola trutherism by suggesting the president isn’t being honest about how the disease spreads, also accused him of “political correctness” in handling the disease, presumably because of sensitivities about its African origins.

The rhetoric around the ISIS threat, as I’ve written before, is even crazier. Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton insists ISIS is coming over the Mexican border. “Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism,” he told a town hall. “They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas.”

Yes, that ISIS-to-Arkansas pipeline is a real threat.

Rep. Duncan Hunter told an appropriately skeptical Greta Van Susteren on Fox thatat least 10 ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas.” At least 10. Maybe more. The Department of Homeland Security has denied Hunter’s charges and all the right wing blather about ISIS at the border, yet it continues.

Now it’s not just ISIS but Ebola that might be coming over the Mexican border, according to Scott Brown, behind in the New Hampshire Senate race. Also-struggling GOP candidate Thom Tillis made the same charge in a debate with North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan. “We’ve got an Ebola outbreak, we have bad actors that can come across the border; we need to seal the border and secure it,” Tillis claimed.

I’m waiting for Rep. Steve King to claim that Mexican immigrants now have “calves the size of cantaloupes” not from carrying drugs over the border, but from smuggling Ebola-infected ISIS fighters into Arizona and Texas.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so dangerous. It’s simply a given on the right that Obama is soft on ISIS because of his ties to Islam. Last month, as ISIS paranoia spread, former House GOP leader Tom DeLay claimed Obama's response to ISIS was slow because he was “paralyzed by Muslim sympathies,” while Family Research Council head Tony Perkins insisted Obama is not a Christian and is “overly sympathetic” to “the Muslim world.”

And now he’s making nice with Ebola because of his African heritage. Whether they accuse Obama of mere “political correctness” or outright treason – the commander in chief refusing to defend his country because he wants to make it “more like Africa” or because he believes “we should suffer along with less fortunate nations,” in the words of Fox’s Keith Ablow -- the right is playing on ugly stereotypes of the president while dealing with what is a genuine threat. One party is irresponsibly playing politics with Ebola and ISIS, but it’s not the president’s.

By Joan Walsh