Politico has launched a five-part series on the American "anti-vaccine political movement," and yes, there is no way to understand current anti-vax hoaxes except as a "political" movement. But Politico focuses this first entry on the Biden administration’s lack of options when it comes to actually doing a damn thing about the hoaxes, and if anyone has a solution, please drop a line to either the White House or federal public health officials because there sure doesn't seem to be one that any of the rest of us can find.
The problem, at its core, is that a large chunk of Republicans decided to make a political movement out of pandemic denialism, claiming that the most significant worldwide health crisis since AIDS or the 1918 flu epidemic was no big deal, even as over 1 million Americans died around them. Even the simple act of wearing a mask to slow the spread of the virus so that hospital morgues would not be quite so overwhelmed was seen, by a certain collection of self-absorbed monumental assholes, as an infringement on their burping, ignorant freedoms.
It was inevitable that this would evolve into contempt for the rapidly developed vaccines that would soon make COVID-19 far more survivable. Because if you're already pushing the theory that the whole pandemic has been either faked or overhyped, then dismissing the resulting vaccines would logically follow.
Even before the pandemic, all of this really stemmed from the intentional political remaking of conservatism into an explicitly anti-science, anti-education movement. This was a necessity for conservative pundits and politicians who needed to sell the base on a party platform of letting polluters pollute, letting drillers drill, and telling everyone else that whatever horrors they or their loved ones had to face as a result were simply the price of patriotism.
The anti-vax movement is not exclusively Republican (although if you're looking to conspiracy-promoting gadfly Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as evidence of "Democratic" support for those themes, then you're going to have to explain why Kennedy sells his shtick almost entirely to far-right crowds and on far-right platforms). But Republicanism is now inextricably linked to it. Case in point: the vicious cruelty of aspirational fascist Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. He has been the most aggressive in pushing dangerous pandemic hoaxes to his base, and his gleeful, purely political appointment of an infamous anti-vax hoax promoter as Florida's surgeon general was one more middle finger. There's no other way to read the elevation of hoaxer Joseph Ladapo to the state's top health post other than a willingness, on DeSantis' part, to kill Floridians outright if there's a chance it could boost his own credentials within the conservative movement.
Because once you've appointed someone to fraudulently alter scientific findings and then announce anti-vax conspiracies as official state government policy, you've erased all of the more charitable interpretations.
That still leaves federal officials in their current bind, however. Republicans have been promoting anti-vaccine sentiments as a supposed part of conservatism's new identity; there is no way for the White House to respond to anti-vaccine hoaxes without being immediately dismissed as doing so out of partisan spite.
So I guess we all live with the return of diseases like polio, since preventing polio or anything else is just too damn partisan now?
I don't have any deep pundit insights on this one; it's the lack of options that's most maddening. The first rule of conspiracy theories is that anyone who rejects the conspiracy theory is declared to be in on the conspiracy, and calling out Ladapo, Kennedy, and others as obvious self-promoting charlatans and snake-oil hucksters will only boost their appeal to the ignorant jackass brigades who follow them. Conservatism is a cult; it no longer has policies, freeing followers to "believe" whatever needs to be believed to support the Dear Leaders of the moment.
This is convenient for anyone looking to be the next Dear Leader; it is catastrophic for anyone who expects the government to do the bare minimum of protecting citizens during a natural or human-made crisis. And as unfortunate as it is, anti-vax cranks are not primarily harming themselves. They're harming other people, which means the good old have fun with that, and let me know how that works out for you approach is neither satisfying nor responsible.
We may need cult deprogrammers to help sort this one out because I don't think either political experts or sociologists will have solutions. And whatever you do, don't talk to historians: It will turn your stomach to learn about the denialism and conspiracy promotion that happened during long-past pandemics—and how those turned out.
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We did it! And it's all thanks to Molech! We're devoting this week's episode of "The Downballot" to giving praise to the dark god himself after New Hampshire Democrat Hal Rafter won a critical special election over Republican Jim Guzofski, the loony toons pastor who once ranted that liberals make "blood sacrifices to their god Molech." Democrats are now just one seat away from erasing the GOP's majority in the state House and should feel good about their chances in the Granite State next year. Republicans, meanwhile, can only stew bitterly that they lack the grassroots fundraising energy provided by Daily Kos, which endorsed Rafter and raised the bulk of his campaign funds via small donations.