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Anti-vaxx authoritarianism


Over the last week, Texas has averaged nearly 15,000 cases a day (which is almost surely a significant undercount, given the lack of systematic testing.) Greg Abbott has leapt into action to…threaten the liquor licenses of businesses requiring proof of vaccination:

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has warned two Austin restaurants that they could lose their liquor licenses for requiring their customers to provide proof of at least a first round of COVID-19 vaccinations before they would be served.

The two restaurants, Launderette and Fresa’s, were first alerted by the TABC on Wednesday that they were in violation of Senate Bill 968, which passed during this year’s regular legislative session.

A spokesperson for the TABC told The Texas Tribune in an email that neither of the restaurants’ owners were aware of the new law and that both immediately took steps to comply.

To state the obvious, opposition to vaccine mandates — a newly minted position for people who aren’t woo-woo anti-vaxx fanatics — for one vaccine only has nothing to do with freedom. It’s about governors using or not using their coercive authority based on what will show the most loyalty to Donald Trump:

The Republicans’ original premise for these beliefs was that Democrats were hyping up the pandemic as a pretext to shut down the economy and thereby to harm his chances of reelection. If Joe Biden won the election, Cruz sagely predicted a year ago, “I guarantee you the week after the election, suddenly all those Democratic governors, all those Democratic mayors, will say, ‘Everything’s magically better. Go back to work. Go back to school. Suddenly the problems are solved.’ ” And since COVID was an exaggerated threat concocted to advance a nefarious Democratic agenda, it followed that the measures public-health authorities were recommending against it, including masks and vaccines, were also unnecessary.

That entire conspiracy theory has collapsed. And yet the beliefs it spawned — that masks and vaccines were unnecessary — have remained in place. As the Delta variant spreads, in no small part owing to right-wing resistance to vaccination, Republican COVID denialism has mutated into an altered form. It is now organized around sanctifying and protecting the absurd and false mythology that Republicans spread under Trump.

Until COVID came along, not even doctrinaire libertarians opposed government vaccine mandates. For decades, institutions like the military and schools have routinely required a long list of vaccines. HuffPost’s Jonathan Cohn cites the works of libertarian writers such as Jessica Flanigan (“A Defense of Compulsory Vaccination,” 2013), Jason Brennan (“A Libertarian Case for Mandatory Vaccination,” 2018), and Ilya Somin, all of whom supported vaccine mandates before COVID existed.

But even if you were such a libertarian extremist that you opposed vaccine requirements, there’s no conceivable justification for banning private business from requiring vaccinations. When Cruz insists, “No one should force anyone to take the vaccine — including the federal government or an employer,” he is trampling on property rights and freedom of association, principles a small-government conservative like Cruz usually defends fanatically. Suppose, for instance, you want to enjoy a cruise with the peace of mind that everybody onboard has gotten a vaccine, and a cruise line wants to sell you that experience. A traditional conservative or libertarian would describe that as a capitalist act between consenting adults. DeSantis believes the heavy hand of government should step in and make that contract illegal.

To summarize, Republican elites started by arguing that COVID-19 mitigation measures imposed by non-nihilist states were just a plot to undermine Trump and would vanish under a Biden administration. When it turned out that Democrats actually to want to mitigate COVID, actively intervening to stop mitigation measures to own the libs became particularly crucial. (And then there’s the particularly insane Alito variant, which holds that urban liberals really, really enjoy being cooped up inside their own homes and will continue to impose anti-COVID measures even after the virus is crushed.) If freedom conflicts with lib-owning, it’s freedom that’s gotta go, just like public health.

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