Sam Stein's Awful Argument Against Travel Ban: Helps America But Hurts West Africa

October 17th, 2014 8:18 AM

The last time we looked, Barack Obama was President of the United States, not of some other country.  So if a ban on travel into the United States by people from Ebola-ravaged countries in West Africa would help America, isn't it President Obama's obligation to impose it, even if it might hurt those African countries?

On today's Morning Joe, HuffPo's Sam Stein twice acknowledged that the ban might "help America." Yet he argued against the ban on the grounds that it would hurt West Africa and make it harder to track people fleeing those countries. You sensed Sam's heart wasn't entirely in it, and when he finished Joe Scarborough thanked him, saying he was going to hit Stein's weak offering out of the park, as that SF Giants batter did last night in the ninth.

Scarborough's counter was that there needs to be a two-pronged approach: a travel ban coupled with greatly-increased American efforts to help stop the epidemic in Africa, thus getting the disease under control and quelling panic that could send people fleeing abroad.

Note that even in the negative scenario that Stein paints in the event of a travel ban, residents of West Africa fleeing to Europe would be stopped there and prevented from entering the United States. 

If Barack Obama truly saw himself first and foremost as President of the United States, rather than as First Citizen of the World, he would have imposed the travel ban weeks ago.  Only a looming catastrophe might now force his hand.  The question is whether it will be too late.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: I'm not an expert in this area. I just want somebody to give me a logical reason why we don't severely limit people from these countries. I am not advocating a quarantine --

SAM STEIN: Can I take a crack?

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Sam's going to take a crack at this.

SCARBOROUGH: I am just asking -- okay take a crack Sam because you tried last week and you were wrong.

BRZEZINSKI: Terrible, yeah. Go ahead.

SAM STEIN: All right!


STEIN: The nexus of the problem with Ebola is not in America it's in West Africa. And until you get the situation in West Africa under control we will never be actually out of the woods with respect to Ebola. So when you look at a travel ban you have to look at it holistically. What does it mean not just for America but for West Africa? Basically every health official--maybe with a few exceptions--has said that if you do a travel ban it may, in fact, help America but it will make the situation in West Africa a whole lot more complex and a whole lot worse. People will panic --


STEIN: Hold on, let me finish. If you do a travel ban in that country people in that country will panic. There will be political panic, there will be social panic. In addition people in that country will still try to get out of that country even though there's a travel ban. You can't prevent them from trying to get out of the country even if do you have a travel ban. Then it becomes a question of okay, let's say somebody with Ebola did try to get out of that country and they did go to Europe and yeah we stopped them in Europe from going to the United States. We still then have to trace who their contacts were up to that point and if you have a travel ban, if they were going underground it becomes a lot harder to trace their contacts. So yes, you might help the situation in America but the situation in West Africa is exacerbated and made worse. That's the point.

SCARBOROUGH: Sam, I want to thank you --

STEIN: I tried my best.

SCARBOROUGH: You tried your best. But at the end of the day you were the poor St. Louis Cardinal pitcher that threw a fat pitch down the middle that I'm going to take out of the park.