If Fighting Terrorist Attacks Is a Government Responsibility, So Is Fighting a Killer Virus

Right-wing pundits still insist on toothless, voluntary public health policies that are killing thousands every day as if being free to die, and kill your children, is to be truly free

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Imagine Barack Obama saying in January 2009: “You know, the airline security measures put in place after 9/11--friends, it’s a significant infringement of personal freedom to paw through people’s belongings just because of a couple of dozen terrorists. It’s divisive. People resent being undressed and searched in public. And infringing on Americans’ freedom to travel with more than 3.5 ounces of face cream--well, what will the government take from us next? So, fellow Americans, we think it’s worth the loss of a few airliners and all their passengers--not to mention countless lives on the ground--to preserve the freedom to travel without federal interference.”

Yet, fundamentally, this is what right-wing pundits and politicians believe about Covid: that disabling and killing hundreds of thousands of Americans from Covid-19, many of them children and babies who cannot make any choice for themselves is the price of freedom.

To put it bluntly, unvaccinated parents and teachers are infecting children and babies in ever-growing numbers. By mid-summer, Americans under the age of 12 represented 13% of Covid cases: that was 400 childhood deaths. The number is far higher now, as childhood infections rise with community spread. This week, four children smothered from the effects of the disease in Georgia alone.

But the total numbers now are even more heartbreaking because this catastrophe was so preventable. On September 4, the most recent day for which the CDC has data, that number is a provisional 3,742: more deaths are as yet unreported. As the Miami Herald has reported, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is actively hiding and fudging the numbers on daily infections and deaths from Covid.

Vaccine refusers are killing their children and killing each other to support an extreme idea about human freedom that is unsupported in United States law. If right-wing pundits reject a vaccine mandate, that is what they support. It’s not a “tribal” point of view--it’s a logical fact. And it’s insane. (OK, that’s a tribal point of view!)

On 9/11, 2,977--excluding the 19 hijackers-- people who had no choice in the matter died because the Bush administration failed to take known threats seriously and implement stringent security protocols at U. S. airports that would have matched similar protocols in Europe and Israel. So there is a 9/11 happening every day now, and the right-wing does not want that to stop.

And yet, even as governors in the most hard-hit, unvaccinated states are signing orders permitting overwhelmed hospitals to invoke “crisis standards”--which means stashing the sickest people in conference and break rooms in an attempt to save lives that they know they can save--conservatives are still howling that the Covid vaccine is a “personal choice.”

Take this morning’s New York Times guest essay by Robby Soave, a senior editor at the libertarian Reason. (I want to interrupt this message to say that, by giving this clown access to its readership, The New York Times has just bounced Soave from his normal 50,000 readers to a million or so who are rarely exposed to libertarianism in the wild. This is, I think, a good thing.) Soave makes the argument that mandating the vaccine is unlawful. Furthermore, he proposes because Biden rejected a vaccine mandate in December, and Jen Psaki, his spokesperson, reiterated that position as recently as April 23, that to do so now erodes the moral authority as president.

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Why? As Soave writes, “forcing vaccines on a minority contingent of unwilling people is a massive error that risks shredding the social fabric of a country already being pulled apart by political tribalism,” “fundamentally undemocratic,” and “will engender a titanic backlash and create a spate of lawsuits.”

Part of me says that people who plan to sue the government should be so lucky to be still alive to make it into court. Because many of them won’t be. Some of us won’t be alive either--because yes, deaths from breakthrough Covid have occurred. Thousands of older and immune-compromised people now need to be vaccinated again because these selfish, conspiracy-minded yokels refused, voluntarily, to take a safe, effective vaccine out of political animus or in the name of “freedom.”

Conservative pundits have relentlessly pushed the stupid on Covid-19 from the beginning: that it wasn’t that dangerous, that it was just like having a cold, that people die every day anyway, that natural exposure would solve the problem, that common household and farm chemicals were a “cure.” They kept saying this as people became ill and died from quack remedies and the virus. They said this as the unvaccinated became walking Petri dishes, not just for spreading the disease but also for its evolution into an even deadlier virus. Think there are only one or two variants out there?

You’re wrong! There are eight, and Gamma--the one that dominates in Latin America is barely on the radar in the United States yet.

But to claim that a necessary public health measure to keep people alive to enjoy their freedom is authoritarian is pure gaslighting. Will the New York Times publish another guest essay tomorrow making this point?

I hope so. Because an opinion is not always just an opinion--it can be a weapon.

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What I’m writing

  • If I seem obsessed with the fight for reproductive freedom, it’s only because I am, and I think Texas has overplayed its hand in the culture wars. “It's an overstatement to say money solves the abortion problem,” my article at Alternet argues. “True, in the pre-Roe years, women of means could access a `therapeutic’ abortion if a sympathetic doctor was willing to fudge the paperwork. But Republicans might be shocked to know how many older women in their party vividly recall the shame and isolation of an accidental pregnancy, the trip to a dodgy abortionist, and being spirited away from high school to deliver a baby they never saw again.” (September 9, 2021)

Short takes:

  • Senator Amy Klobuchar, who was successfully treated for Stage 1A breast cancer in the spring, reminds all of us to catch up with the routine screenings we have delayed during the pandemic. “many people have been delaying physicals and routine examinations because of the pandemic,” she writes. “I know that because I delayed mine. In fact, more than one in three adults reported delaying or forgoing health care because of coronavirus-related concerns.” (Medium, September 9, 2021)

  • It’s not as though I thought that Caitlyn Jenner’s bid to be governor of California was going anywhere, but hiring her “roommate” Sophia Hutchins as a political consultant was a little too…too. Available public information on Hutchins “shows no career background in politics,” writes William Bredderman of The Daily Beast, “although it notes she was class president at Pepperdine University during her freshman, sophomore, and junior years. Nonetheless, she maintained to The Daily Beast that she is highly qualified to serve on Jenner’s campaign.” (September 9, 2021)