Okay, let me get this straight. Last Saturday the New York Times ran an article rehashing how the anti-vaccination movement is centered in trendy liberal areas like Marin County, California, among people who “meditate” on the decision to inoculate their children with “essential oils” rather than medicine, whose “faith … is not so much religious as it is a belief that ‘they raise their children in a natural, organic environment’ and [who] are suspicious of pharmaceutical companies and big business.” Then on Tuesday the Times ran another story blaming the movement on … Republicans?!
The Times’ about-face was just one example of a little Orwellian campaign that’s sprung up in the liberal media since the Disneyland measles outbreak to try to rewrite history by shoehorning vaccine opposition into the shopworn trope that it is conservatives who are “anti-science.” A masterpiece of this newspeak genre was a 10-minute tirade by Chris Matthews on “Hardball” last week fervidly depicting anti-vaxxers as evangelical homeschoolers—a portrayal so bizarrely at odds with reality that it fell to Matthews’ guest Howard Dean to interject the only hint of accuracy at the end, noting that “In fairness, it’s not just the Right, there’s also some people on the Left who believe this, often in … higher-income groups.”
Let’s Review the Evidence
Well, good for Dean for trying to bring Matthews back towards earth orbit, but the inconvenient truth for both of them is that it’s not just “some people on the Left who believe this” along with a horde of right-wing yahoos. Rather, the anti-vax movement is almost entirely a phenomenon of the affluent crunchy granola Left—as everyone across the political spectrum acknowledged until the last week or so. “Acknowledged” is not even the right word; there was simply no debate about this in which to acknowledge anything, as the first Times article suggests. A week before that Times article, the Washington Post similarly noted that:
The communities where anti-vaxxers cluster are … among the most liberal. Marin County, San Francisco County and Alameda County all voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008. In Marin, 78 percent of the vote went to Obama. In San Francisco, it was 84 percent. And in Alameda, it was 79 percent. That’s all higher than what Obama got in his own home county of Cook County, Illinois.
The Atlantic reported last fall on a Hollywood Reporter study showing that “vaccination rates in elite neighborhoods like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills”—where no one other than Clint Eastwood has voted Republican for 40 years—are as low as in Chad or South Sudan.
The leaders of the anti-vax movement are not fundamentalists, or even right-wing libertarians, but Democrats like leftist environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who in a 2013 speech likened vaccination to “Nazi death camps” and said vaccine proponents “should be in jail and the key should be thrown away.”
But surely, you may be thinking, those yokels in the red states must be even more ignorant about vaccination than the Santa Monica sophisticates. Well, no. In fact, guess what state has the highest vaccination rate and one of the two most stringent vaccination laws, according to the left-liberal site Vox.com. Did you say Mississippi? And the other state with the strictest requirements is … West Virginia. What makes the laws in these two Bible Belt states the toughest in the country? Not only do they not allow a loosey-goosey “personal belief exemption” like the crunchies get in states like California, but, unlike the other 48 states, they don’t allow a religious exemption either.
Libs, Own Your Anti-Vaccination Wing
The effort to nonetheless spin vaccine opposition as a right-wing cause has seized on recent, and very different, comments by Rand Paul and Chris Christie. It’s true that Paul, with his wild claim that vaccination can cause “profound mental disorders,” allied himself with the fringe Left—just as he and his fringe libertarian cohort have allied with them on disarmament, isolationism, restrictions on law enforcement, drug legalization, and just about every other idea from Haight Ashbury c. 1967. But even if you term Paul a “conservative” because of his (Ayn) Randian economic views, that hardly makes these leftover hippie policies conservative or Republican.
Christie’s offhand response to a reporter’s question in England, while politically clumsy, was much more nuanced than Paul’s. In fact, as Mollie Hemingway noted, it was not all that different from President Obama’s statement. He suggested there’s a balance between parental rights and public health falling along a spectrum depending on such factors as the seriousness and communicability of the disease. That seems incontrovertible. I think almost everyone would agree that calls to jail parents who haven’t vaccinated their kids against measles are harshly extreme (even if lesser sanctions like keeping the kids out of school may be appropriate). By contrast, such a Draconian step might be warranted were we to face a serious crisis involving a much more life-threatening disease.
Look, I have no problem attacking the Right for the nuts in its midst. Birthers are a right-wing problem. Those who dismiss 47 percent of the country as “takers” are a right-wing problem. But anti-vaxxers are a problem of the New-Age Left. I’m relieved that the liberal Democratic establishment is, just this once and out of political calculation, rejecting a crazy idea of this kale crowd in favor of common sense. But for them to then try to pin the idea on conservatives is breathtakingly disingenuous. Own it, liberals.