The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting more than 100 confirmed cases of measles spread across 14 states, an outbreak that began at Disneyland in California.
Now the outbreak has spread to the 2016 presidential race – or more accurately to what several of the likely Republican candidates think about mandatory vaccinations that would protect children from measles.
When asked what he thought about vaccinations, Chris Christie (at first) sounded like he thought they should be voluntary. He said that his children had been vaccinated, but added: “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”
Then Rand Paul — a doctor — was asked what he thought, and true to his libertarian principles said, “I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” apparently referring to discredited pseudo scientific “findings” that linked vaccinations to autism. Later, Paul said, vaccines were “a good thing,” but added: “I think the parents should have some input. The state doesn’t own your children. The parents own the children.”
Later, both politicians “clarified” their remarks, probably because they understood that while there are times when pandering to activist parents might help you as a politician, there are times when it might hurt you – especially when the measles outbreak is still spreading. Christie’s staff put out a statement saying that, “with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated.” And Paul’s people pointed out that the senator’s children have all been vaccinated, adding that Paul “believes that vaccines have saved lives, and should be administered to children.”
Politicians don’t like offending activists, even when they need offending – or at least straightening out. There is a community of parents with autistic kids out there and they are passionate true believers in the fiction that vaccinations and autism are connected. And, oh yeah, they vote.
The autism-vaccination nexus started with a study published in England in 1998 – a study that was shown to be fraudulent. The doctor involved lost his medical license. But the virus of fear had spread through the population, thanks in part to carriers like celebrity Jenny McCarthy. And politicians weren’t about to tell anti-vaccine parents that they didn’t know what they were talking about. Hence, the political tap dancing we’ve already seen in 2015 on the issue of mandatory vaccinations for all kids who go to public schools
In the past few days two other likely GOP presidential candidates — Ben Carson and Jeb Bush — responded to the vaccination question leaving no wiggle room. Both said all children should be vaccinated to prevent measles and other diseases that can spread quickly and easily. Carson, the retired neurosurgeon, saying that vaccinations are a public safety issue. and that, “Certain vaccines should be required — vaccines that are against communicable diseases that have real consequences for society.”
No pandering there. Now let’s see if that kind of common sense spreads among the rest of the GOP field.
And despite what that noted political scientist Joy Behar, formerly one of the female chatterboxes on “The View,” thinks about what she calls “This Neanderthal [anti-vaccine] thinking on the right that is really scary and dangerous,” Republicans don’t have a monopoly on pandering to anxious parents.
And while we’re at it, despite what the Democratic National Committee says about Senator Paul – that he was “kowtowing to the fringe rhetoric of the anti-vaccination movement” – Democrats were also quite willing to pander to anti-vaccine parents at the height of the autism controversy.
There was candidate Barack Obama in 2008 who said: “We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines.” He said the science was “inconclusive.”
There was also Hillary Clinton, who was also running for president in 2008, who responded to a question from an autism activist group saying she was in favor of “making investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environment causes like vaccines.”
By that point the science was not inconclusive, but rather quite conclusive. Numerous scientific studies determined that there was no link between autism and the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine.
And as the Wall Street Journal points out, “Vaccine anxiety is most common in privileged communities of the liberal elite. The California schools with some of the lowest rates of immunization are clustered in the organic-food-and-yoga realms of Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.”
But with the 2016 presidential race already upon us, Republicans need to be especially strong in the face of activism by fringe elements on the right. And they haven’t always been.
When a poll came out (in 2010) saying 31 percent of Republicans thought Barack Obama was a Muslim, Mitch McConnell told David Gregory on “Meet the Press”: “The president says he’s a Christian. I take him at his word.” That was the best he could muster.
And when John Boehner was asked about legislation co-sponsored by 12 Republicans in the House casting doubt about Mr. Obama’s citizenship, all Boehner could come up with was this: “The state of Hawaii has said that President Obama was born there. That’s good enough for me,” before adding, “It’s the melting pot of America. It’s not up to me to tell them what to think.”
When Republican leaders are afraid to flat-out denounce the craziest among them, that’s a problem.
And if during the 2016 GOP debates, a reporter asks the candidates: “How old do you think the planet Earth is?” — I’m betting no one will answer correctly, “About 4.5 billion years old.” Why? Because that might offend the crazies on the Christian far right who think the planet is only 6,000 years old. I’m also betting the candidates would probably say: “What does my thinking about the age of the planet have anything to do with what I’ll be called upon to do as President of the United States?”
Ok. But would we want to vote for somebody who thinks the Earth is flat? That might not affect the president’s decisions in the Oval Office, either. But anyone who thinks that – or that the planet is a mere 6,000 years old — in my view anyway, is too stupid and too dangerous to be president.
No, Republicans don’t have a monopoly on pandering. It’s a weak gene in the DNA of lots of politicians, regardless of their party affiliation. But that won’t matter to the so-called mainstream media. There’s a good rule of thumb GOP candidates should consider: Liberal journalists salivate more when going after conservative Republicans than liberal Democrats. And if Republicans pander, they’ll find themselves in the MSM’s crosshairs.
So, man up Republicans! Better to offend and even alienate the fringe – than come off looking weak. That will offend and alienate almost everyone else.