Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Our political fear factory manufactures another big scare

Florida Gov. Rick Scott
Florida Gov. Rick Scott Miami

Remember Ebola? Remember cowering during that last big politically manufactured scare? Back before the notion of a few Syrian refugees sent us scurrying under our beds?

The Ebola panic was just 13 months ago. Pols like Gov. Rick Scott whipped us into a frightened frenzy, warning that public health scientists at the Centers for Disease Control — first cousins to those scurrilous climate scientists over at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — were allowing diseased international medical workers back into the U.S.

“We’re not going to let that happen in Florida,” Scott said, promising that anyone arriving here from Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone would undergo intense scrutiny. He made joint appearances with that other fear-mongering blowhard of a governor, Chris Christie, who had made headlines by detaining an asymptomatic nurse just back from performing heroic work in Africa with Médecins Sans Frontières.

Unhappily for Scott, Florida airports had no incoming commercial flights from West Africa, robbing him of a live-on-Fox-News opportunity to intercept his own hostage health worker.

An Ebola epidemic in the U.S., despite purported negligence by the feds, was not forthcoming. No matter, it’s 2015, and the national fear factory has churned out another faux threat. Scott and his fellow Republican governors (and one among the Democrats) have spent the last week likening plans to resettle Syrian war refugees to a terrorist invasion. Scott has been warning that the Obama administration intends to send 425 Syrian refugees our way, though, according to Politico, the governor pulled that number out of his hat.

Of course, Syrian refugees are subjected to an 18-month screening process before they’re allowed to resettle in the U.S. Meanwhile, Florida allowed 15 million international tourists to visit last year (7.26 million in Miami-Dade County), most of them after a minutes-long interview at passport control.

At least eight of the nine terrorists behind the Paris massacre held passports from France or Belgium, whose citizens are allowed visa-free tourist travel to the U.S. The idea that would-be terrorists would opt to undergo the months-long scrutiny of the refugee process rather than infiltrate the legions visiting Disney World or Miami Beach, hardly makes sense. Except in a political context.

Florida also absorbed, without apparent worry, many of the 25,000 refugees who entered last year from Cuba, a country that until last spring was designated by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terrorism. (Rick Scott complained, “President Obama’s decision to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism is shameful.”) But Cuban refugees were categorized under a different kind of political expediency.

Politicians, looking for a cheap bump in the polls, have similarly ginned up public angst about the possible transfer of terrorist detainees from the world’s most expensive prison on Guantánamo Bay to a stateside lock-up. As if some flimsy federal super max would be too insubstantial to contain these fearsome creatures.

It’s like our political leaders are determined to take up where terrorism left off, hyping fears, rendering us into a cowering (but obedient) gaggle of wimps.