I was critical of Senator Susan Collins of Maine for her support of Obama’s stimulus plan. But Collins did not deserve to be charged with contributing to the possible swine flu pandemic, which is a charge leveled against her and spread throughout the internet and mainstream media.
The charge against Collins started with a post by John Nichols of The Nation titled “GOP Know-Nothings Fought Pandemic Preparedness.” The central thesis of the post was that the U.S. was not prepared for a flu pandemic because Collins prevented needed funding as part of the stimulus plan. Collins and other Republicans, according to Nichols, put lives at risk to make a political point:
Even as Rove and his compatriots argued that a stimulus bill should include initiatives designed to shore-up and maintain any recovery, they consistently, and loudly, objected to spending money to address the potentially devastating economic impact of a major public health emergency….
So Rove, Collins and those who echoed their know-nothing appeals understood that they were wrong. But they bet that they would be able to score their political points without any consequences.
Now that fears of a pandemic have been raised, however, it is appropriate to ask whether individuals who are so manifestly irresponsible and partisan should be taken seriously….
Collins played politics with public health, and the economic recovery. That makes her about as bad a player as you will find in a town full of bad players.
Nichols’ post spread like a wild fire through the nutroots and beyond, including in USA Today. Americans United for Change, a group which promotes liberal causes, included the accusations as a centerpiece of attacks on Republicans in general and Collins specifically:
Americans United for Change, which marshaled support for Obama’s Congressional agenda, is blasting the moderate Maine Republican for opposing $800-plus million for pandemic planning that had been included in the stimulus two months ago.
When Collins ridiculed and attacked the inclusion of pandemic preparedness money in the stimulus bill, she was wrong — wrong from a public health standpoint and wrong from an economic standpoint.
No amount of spin will change this reality. In fact, the lame defenses mustered by Collins’ office compound the wrong, and feed the sense that the senator in more interested in playing politics than living up to her own claim — made as she was seeking to strip the preparedness funds from the stimulus — that “everybody in the room is concerned about a pandemic flu.”
Nichols repeats his phony attack on Republicans and Collins again today in a post:
With public concerns and political pressures rising as the World Health Organization urges countries to prepare for a pandemic, it is unlikely that Maine Senator Susan Collins, the Republican who led the fight against allocating the preparedness money (cheered on by unthinking Democrats such as New York’s Chuck Schumer), will object this time.
There are several levels of problem with Nichols’ thesis. At its core, Nichols’ thesis misrepresented the level of preparedness. The Bush administration put the infrastructure and planning in place during 2005-2006 to handle a pandemic. There was no crisis in funding in February 2009 or now. The funding in the stimulus plan for pandemic preparedness had nothing to do with current preparedness.
But don’t take my word for it. At his news conference on April 29, 2009, Barack Obama — who has had very few good things to say about the Bush administration — made the following statement regarding Bush administration preparations for a flu pandemic:
I do want to compliment Democrats and Republicans who worked diligently back in 2005 when the bird flu came up. I was part of a group of legislators who worked with the Bush administration to make sure that we had beefed up our infrastructure and our stockpiles of antiviral drugs, like Tamiflu.
And I think the Bush administration did a good job of creating the infrastructure so that we can respond. For example, we’ve got 50 million courses of anti-viral drugs in the event that they’re needed.
So, the government is going to be doing everything that we can. We’re coordinating closely with state and local officials. Secretary Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security, newly installed Secretary Sebelius of Health and Human Services, our acting CDC director, they are all on the phone on a daily basis with all public health officials across the states to coordinate and make sure that there’s timely reporting, that if — as new cases come up, that we’re able to track them effectively, that we’re allocating resources so that they’re in place.
I am not the only one calling Nichols out on his false accusations. The Morning Sentinel in Collins’ home state of Maine issued this editorial titled “Collins didn’t vote in favor of swine flu attack”:
Columnist John Nichols just drips with irony when he magnanimously declares, “Did Rove, Collins and their compatriots want a pandemic? Of course not.”
But thanks for asking the question, John.
Here’s the problem with this line of attack: It’s a cheap shot, and it’s not the whole picture.
It presumes that all funding for fighting pandemics would come from the stimulus bill. That’s not the case. While Collins helped nix the pandemic money in the stimulus, she had earlier joined a bipartisan group of senators in requesting $905 million for preparedness programs at the Department of Health and Human Services. That’s on top of $7 billion appropriated since 2006 for such widespread health emergencies. An Associated Press report Tuesday quotes a White House spokesman as saying that current funding for anti-flu efforts was sufficient for now. And according to her office, Collins has voted in favor of billions of dollars in pandemic flu preparedness funding since 2005.
Nichols identified a problem which did not exist, blamed Susan Collins for that supposed problem, and thereby put responsibility on Collins for flu deaths. At first I thought Nichols merely was wrong. But with his repetition of his charges almost every day, it is clear that Nichols is the one playing politics with the flu pandemic. Nichols false attack on Collins now is a part of faux history via the internet nutroots as picked up by the mainstream media. A classic example of how falsehood becomes “truth.”
At a minimum, Nichols and The Nation should issue a correction. But I’m sure that will not happen, because the last thing Nichols and The Nation are interested in is the truth.