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Will Republicans and their fellow travelers make whooping cough great again?

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Sheryl Gay Stolberg has an excellent piece pointing out that governors inventing a “right” not to take the COVID vaccine are enforcing other vaccine mandates, which have been a banal part of American life for time out of mind:

Like other Republican governors around the country, Tate Reeves of Mississippi reacted angrily to the coronavirus vaccine mandates President Biden imposed on private businesses. Declaring the move “terrifying,” he wrote on Twitter: “This is still America, and we still believe in freedom from tyrants.”

There is a deep inconsistency in that argument. Mississippi has some of the strictest vaccine mandates in the nation, which have not drawn opposition from most of its elected officials. Not only does it require children to be vaccinated against measles, mumps and seven other diseases to attend school, but it goes a step further than most states by barring parents from claiming “religious, philosophical or conscientious” exemptions.

Resistance to vaccine mandates was once a fringe position in both parties, more the realm of misinformed celebrities than mainstream political thought. But the fury over Mr. Biden’s mandates shows how a once-extreme stance has moved to the center of the Republican Party. The governors’ opposition reflects the anger and fear about the vaccine among constituents now central to their base, while ignoring longstanding policy and legal precedent in favor of similar vaccination requirements.

As Paul said yesterday, there are two possibilities here. One is that, like the majority opinion in Bush v. Gore or the “equal sovereign dignitude of of the states” “doctrine” in Shelby County (at least so far), opposition to vaccine mandates is cabined to COVID and is never mentioned again once it stops being politically useful, because after all the argument that you have a “right” not to be vaccinated makes as much sense as saying you have the “right” to fly a passenger jet after popping 5 Oxycontin 80s, not least because to work vaccines need to be taken collectively.

The much more terrifying possibility is that, like the Bush v. Gore concurrence or the “sovereign immunity” doctrine revived by the Rehnquist Court, this new “principle” lies around like a loaded weapon to wreak much more mischief:

Many of these elected officials have declined to elaborate on their views about vaccine requirements and whether they only object to Biden’s federal plan or also think other mandates put in place by school districts, the military and private employers should be rethought or banned.

The sharp rhetoric and failure to clarify their broader views on vaccines are worrying some public health experts.

“The 20th century was a century of incredible progress against leading killers, and much of that progress was because of vaccinations,” said Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “If we turn our back on vaccines at this moment where vaccines are really having a scientific heyday . . . I think that would be tragic, and it would cause a lot of unnecessary suffering and death, particularly among children.”

It’s really good that reporters like Stolberg and Sonmez are putting things in the proper context, but if Rupert’s army refuses to go along it will only do so much good. A lot of eradicated or near-eradicated diseases may come back because the Republican Media-Industrial Complex wanted to keep COVID-19 going to use as a cudgel against Joe Biden.

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