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“I Am A Scientist, Man, But A Conservative One”: Vaccine Skepticism Isn’t A Conservative Problem, But It’s A Problem For Conservatives

Because New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently quarantined a nurse in a large tent when he thought she might have had Ebola, you might have assumed that he of all people would seize upon a measles outbreakattributable to a movement of anti-vaccine reactionariesto lecture parents for putting children at risk. But when pressed to take a position on the view that parents should vaccinate their children, Christie hedged. “It’s more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official,” he said. “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”

It’s tempting to attribute his sudden fondness for “balance” to lessons he over-learned during the Ebola panic he helped nurture. But it’s also mistaken.

Vaccine skeptics don’t mirror climate change deniers, who are overwhelmingly conservative and amplified by vast wealth. But the anti-vaxx movement nevertheless presents a greater political problem for Republicans than Democrats, who, like President Obama, are unafraid to make explicit declarations about the importance of vaccinating children. By and large, Republican politicians don’t tout their own ignorance of vaccine science or use it to shield themselves from substantive questions about immunology, public health, or child rearing. Vaccine skepticism and climate change denial are, again, more different as reactionary movements than they are alike.

But two facts about vaccine skeptics and the risks they pose make it difficult for Chris Christie and perhaps other Republicans to treat anti-vaxxers as brusquely as he’s happy to treat unionized teachers in Newark.

It’s not that Republicans must pretend to believe that vaccines cause autism. But a large, motivated population of vaccine skeptics begs for interventions Republicans can’t easily get behind. The two most straightforward ways to increase vaccination rates or otherwise reduce the risk of losing herd immunity are: Imposing government mandates and stigmatizing the white, affluent people who comprise the core of the anti-vaxx movement.

Hectoring white people and imposing mandates on their families doesn’t fit comfortably in the GOP wheelhouse these days, and Christie’s awkward walkback underscores the bind that places on conservatives exquisitely.

Christie’s office: “The governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated. At the same time different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for balance in which ones government should mandate.”

Shorter Christie: I am a scientist, man. But a conservative one.

Conservatives and liberals are both overwhelmingly of the view that childhood vaccines carry important benefits; conservatives, however, are inherently skeptical of government interventions of any kind. Thus, Republican politicians who lean too heavily on the state action, even in the realm of something as essential to the common good as immunization, will run into problems.

A 2014 study by Dan Kahan for Yale Law School’s Cultural Cognition Project found that people with left-leaning political outlooks are likelier to support restricting non-medical exemptions for childhood vaccine requirements, likely reflecting “an ideological predisposition against government regulation independent of any ideological sensibility specific to childhood vaccination.”

This tendency might not hold if anti-vaxxers existed on the fringes of political life, or were overwhelmingly of foreign origin, or were monolithically liberal. Opposition to government intervention can be both reflexive and selective. But the available evidence suggests vaccine skeptics tend to be white, educated, affluent, and, per Kahan’s study, politically diverse.

It’s not that Republicans are in thrall to vaccine skeptics, but it can be difficult for them to confront vaccine skeptics in ways that don’t alarm conservatives for other reasons. And taken to an extreme, it becomes hard to tell the difference between the two.


By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, February 2, 2014

February 6, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, Conservatives, Vaccinations | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Keeping Desperation As High As Possible”: Why The Greedy Upper Class Loves The GOP

Last week, Reihan Salam took a whack at America’s upper class in Slate. His charge? That the upper class uses its considerable political clout to protect itself from competition and keep its own incomes high, thus making life harder on everyone else further down the economic ladder. And he’s not wrong!

But Salam is also a conservative, with a conservative’s standard desire for low taxes, few regulations, and a skimpy social safety net. And what he conveniently leaves out of his screed is the fact that these preferences are themselves the ultimate expression of upper-class greed and self-dealing.

Let’s start with what Salam gets right. He points out that licensing and accreditation laws protect professions like dentists, lawyers, electricians, hairstylists, and the like from competition, which raises the costs of services they provide and prevents other workers from breaking into the market. The local land-use restrictions and zoning regulations that many in the upper class favor drive up housing prices, which makes it harder for the lower class to live in good neighborhoods with good schools, or to benefit from the economic development that comes with gentrification. The upper class seems implicitly content with an immigration status quo that maximizes competition in working-class jobs while minimizing it among high-skill professions. And of course there was the recent collapse of President Obama’s proposal to raise new tax revenue from 529 college savings accounts, a self-interested revolt of the upper class if ever there was one.

However, if you read between the lines, Salam isn’t really talking about the upper class writ large here. He’s talking about the liberal upper class. The issues he cites are mainly a big deal in cities, where liberals cluster. And conservative commentary in general these days has a tendency to talk about the American upper class as if it’s populated entirely by liberal yuppies who love yoga, organic food, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and abortions, and who think that guns are barbaric and that religion is backwards.

As it happens, however, the GOP relies on the upper class even more than Democrats. Median household income in the United States is $52,250, and if you look at the 2012 election, voters below that mark broke hard for Obama, with those above going for Mitt Romney by lesser margins. This trend of the Democrats getting way more votes below the median income level has roughly held for decades. These days, strong support for Republicans really doesn’t kick in until you get close to $75,000, or roughly the top third of the income ladder.

The difference between the parties is not that one relies on the wealthy and one doesn’t. Both parties lean heavily on those voters and divvy them up in various ways. (Mainly through cultural and social issues.) But the Democrats’ coalition also includes a fair portion that’s lower and working class, that’s still fighting for attention in the party, and that occasionally gets it. Conversely, lower- and working-class voters are mostly just absent from the GOP.

This matters because the upper class also has a pretty distinctive set of economic policy preferences. According to a recent study by Pew, the most financially secure Americans — roughly a fourth to a third of the population, by Pew’s definition — disproportionately say that government can’t afford to do more to help the needy, and that poor people “have it easy” thanks to government benefits. The less financially secure think the opposite. Large majorities of those making below $75,000 say the thing that bothers them the most about taxes is that the wealthy don’t pay their fair share. Large majorities of Americans oppose cuts to everything from Social Security and Medicare to aid for the poor. They support making union organizing easier and more federal spending on education.

Hell, 57 percent of the Republican or Republican-leaning voters who do make less than $30,000 think government doesn’t do enough to support poor people.

The reason the GOP can get away with being on the opposite side on all these matters is the fact that the voting population skews upper class: Even Democrats in the top third of the income distribution are noticeably more economically right-wing than poorer Democrats or Republicans, and Republicans in the top third are really economically right-wing.

There’s a pretty straightforward argument for why the upper class tilts in this direction. As Salam notes, the policy preferences of the upper class that really stick in his craw boil down to protecting their incomes and thus making the goods and services they provide more expensive for everyone else. But the flip side of that is making sure the goods and services everyone else provides — and thus their incomes — come cheap. That’s where the GOP comes in.

The essence of worker bargaining power is the ability to tell an employer “no.” That forces business owners to offer a better deal, driving up wages and benefits. A broad and generous welfare state gives workers leverage in that regard. It also helps boost aggregate demand, getting us closer to the full employment that really gives workers an edge. In short, the income of the working class is inversely proportional to its level of economic desperation. The effect of conservatives’ preferred economic policies — from slashing spending to imposing work requirements for aid — is to keep that desperation as high as possible. And of course, the upper class certainly doesn’t want to shoulder the taxes necessary to make such a system work.

The thing to remember is that, when it comes to what to do with the working class, the interests of the upper class and the super-rich cohere. Whether you’re a corporate CEO, a small-business owner, or just a well-heeled professional who consumes a lot of high-end goods and services, it benefits you to keep the labor of everyday Americans as cheap, compliant, and disposable as possible. It’s true, as Salam notes, that the truly rich aren’t quite as desperate to defend their interests as the upper class is; if you’ve got Mitt Romney’s dough, you can put up with more taxes, regulations, and workers demanding dignified pay and good benefits.

But that just bolsters the point that the fervent bastion of the economic right is the upper class. They’ve got the most to gain by slashing taxes, cutting regulations, scrapping government aid programs, and busting unions.

As Salam acknowledges, he doesn’t want high taxes on the wealthy, or for America to go down the road of the big European welfare states. His fellow reform conservatives and the Republican Party agree with him in this regard. Salam then says of the upper class: “I sensed that their gut political instincts were all about protecting what they had and scratching out the eyeballs of anyone who dared to suggest taking it away from them.”

But aren’t conservative economic policies the perfect expression of that exact impulse?


By: Jeff Spross, The Week, February 3, 2015

February 6, 2015 Posted by | Economic Inequality, GOP, Upper Class | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Parents Own The Children”: Libertarians Have A History Of Horrifying Views On Parenting

In a recent CNBC interview, Senator Rand Paul tempered some of his recent remarks about the alleged horrors of vaccination by claiming that he only opposes vaccine mandates because they infringe upon parents’ freedom. When confronted with the question of whether or not discouraging vaccination is a threat to children’s health, Paul launched into a meandering consideration of public health and liberty that concluded with the assertion that “the state doesn’t own your children, parents own the children.”

Paul’s bizarre rendering of the parent-child relationship as unilateral ownership is not the most unhinged thing a well-regarded libertarian has ever said about children. In fact, libertarians exhibit a historical inability to adequately explain how parents should relate to their children, why parents are obligated (if at all) to care for their children, and whether or not moral nations should require that parents feed, clothe, and shelter their children within a libertarian frame.

Consider Lew Rockwell, former congressional chief of staff for Rand’s father, Ron. Rockwell, who may or may not have had a hand in composing the now infamously racist and homophobic slew of newsletters sent out to Ron Paul fans between the late ’70s and early ’90s, is a professed fan of child labor. Complaining of laws that prevent, among other things, second-graders from operating forklifts, Rockwell opines that “we are still saddled with anti-work laws that stunt young people’s lives.” Like Rand Paul on vaccine mandates, Rockwell sees child labor laws as government overreach. “In a free and decent society, decisions about these matters are for parents, not bureaucrats,” Rockwell writes, referring to whether or not schoolchildren should be breadwinners. The type of society Rockwell envisions here hardly seems “decent,” but it would certainly be “free” in the way Paul imagines, and in that sense it is perfectly libertarian.

Rockwell’s mentor, Murray Rothbard, one of the twentieth century’s more famous libertarians, was similarly fond of kids in the workplace. Rothbard imagined that laws against child labor were passed in order to artificially inflate the wages of adults, who viewed children as competition capable of underbidding them. “Supposedly ‘humanitarian’ child labor laws,” Rothbard remarks in his book The Ethics of Liberty, “have systematically forcibly prevented children from entering the labor force, thereby privileging their adult competitors.” While the real impetus behind child labor laws was child welfare, it is telling that Rothbard tended to look upon kids with a suspicious eye, and his ethics bear out this cold approach. Later in The Ethics of Liberty, Rothbard, in keeping with the libertarian exaltation of personal freedom, argues that “no man can therefore have a ‘right’ to compel someone to do a positive act”that is, because all people are free, by his account, your rights cannot impose positive actions on others. This means, Rothbard goes on, that a parent “may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die.” He concludes that “the law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive.” To do so, for Rothbard, would be pure government overreach.

Such dark fantasies are not restricted to the weird world of libertarian academia. Williamson “Bill” Evers, formerly a libertarian candidate for congress and advisor to the McCain 2008 campaign, also argues that there should be no laws preventing a parent from, say, starving an infant to death. In an article published in the Journal of Libertarian Studies, Evers concludes, “We have considered the hypothesis that there should be an enforced legal duty of parents to support their minor children. Having found the various reasons advanced in support of this duty inadequate, we can only conclude that no such duty exists … one has to regard the notion of a legal duty of parents to support their children as without merit.” Evers allows that parents might be morally obligated to do something for their children, but also that morals should not be legally enforced. Therefore, vaccination, labor, and finally whether or not to give one’s children the necessities of life ultimately comes down, for these classic libertarian thinkers, to the free will of the parents.

Libertarianism rests on the whimsical notion that all people are isolated, entirely free agents with no claims on others except those that they can negotiate through consensual contracts. The very existence of children flatly disproves this; any moral intuition indicates that children come into the world with claims on their parents at the very least, and their entire societies considered broadly. To avoid a hellish death spiral of infectious disease and neglect, we would all do well to reject Paul and his cohort on the subject of child rearing.


By: Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, The New Republic, February 4, 2015

February 6, 2015 Posted by | Libertarians, Public Health, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mollifying The Extremists”: GOP Back To ‘Impeachment,’ ‘Jail Time’ For Obama

As the 2014 cycle progressed, the number of congressional Republicans talking about impeaching President Obama faded, and there’s no real mystery as to what happened. GOP leaders, fearing a public backlash, told Republican incumbents and candidates to dial it down a notch. Why rile up Democrats, who too often stay home in midterm cycles, when they’re tuning out?

And as a consequence, for months, the “i” word more or less faded. That is, until very recently.

Last week, Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), less than a month into his first term in Congress, announced his belief that President Obama, without a doubt, “deserves impeachment.” He’s not the only one talking like this.

Republican Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania says President Obama is “getting close” to impeachment. “People say, ‘should the president be impeached?’ I say, we’re getting close to that,” Marino said in a video posted on YouTube Wednesday by the local newspaper, the Wellsboro Gazette.

Marino said he was talking about impeachment because “it comes up consistently at town hall meetings.”

Well, that’s a good reason. Marino was a little fuzzy on what, exactly, would be the grounds for presidential impeachment, but for many GOP lawmakers, that’s a minor and inconvenient detail that shouldn’t interfere with reckless rhetoric.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), meanwhile, has no use for subtlety and is already talking publicly about “jail time” for the president:

In an appearance on “The Steve Malzberg Show” [Tuesday], Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., continued his crusade against President Obama’s executive actions on immigration reform, calling on the federal courts to find that the president’s actions violated the law.

If Obama defies such a ruling, Brooks said, then Congress should pass a contempt citation against the president for his “reckless conduct” and demand that he comply with the court’s decision.

He said that Obama would then drop his executive actions since he, like Richard Nixon, doesn’t want to “incur the wrath that comes with a contempt citation with potential fines and jail time.”

At this point, I still consider it unlikely that GOP leaders will go along with the far-right’s impeachment crusade, but conservative media appears to be on board, and the number of congressional Republican talking up the idea since the elections keeps growing.

Even if party leaders balk, this only means they’ll have to think of something else to mollify the extremists in their midst, and pointless anti-Obama lawsuits probably won’t cut it.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 4, 2015

February 6, 2015 Posted by | Conservative Media, GOP, Impeachment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Highly Situational Principles”: How The Vaccine Controversy Shows The Limits Of GOP Libertarianism

As a demonstration that anything can become political and you never know what issue is going to take over a campaign, every potential presidential candidate is now thinking very carefully about what they should say on the topic of childhood immunizations. Chris Christie kicked things off when he answered a question about a spreading measles outbreak with some comments about parental choice that he sort-of walked back, but the real news came when Rand Paul — a graduate of Duke University medical school, which I’m fairly certain is a real thing — gave an interview to CNBC in which he said, “I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”

Needless to say, this is utterly bogus. What Paul should have noted was that this question has been studied exhaustively, and there is no evidence whatsoever that vaccines cause autism or any other “mental disorder.”

But if you thought that every GOP candidate would be rushing to pander to people’s fears about big government forcing them to stick needles in their kids, you’d be wrong. In fact, the ones we’ve heard from so far have been clearly pro-vaccine. And this shows just where the limits of libertarianism within the Republican Party are.

As the New York Times noted this morning, Mike Huckabee has in the past advocated that vaccines be widely used, and specifically dismissed the debunked connection to autism, while Rick Perry has also touted his administration’s efforts to increase vaccination. You’ll recall that Perry was criticized by his Republican opponents in 2012 for mandating that girls in Texas public schools receive the HPV vaccine (though he eventually reversed himself when he was convinced by other Texas conservatives that giving a 10-year-old girl a shot to prevent her from getting cervical cancer after she becomes an adult would obviously turn her into a sex maniac). Ben Carson also made clear that mandatory vaccination is critical to preventing disease, no matter what religious or philosophical objections people might have. John Boehner too said that every child should be vaccinated.

While there are a few candidates we haven’t yet heard from, it may be surprising that Paul isn’t getting more company; indeed, he’s probably surprised, given how much Republicans have talked about individual liberty in the last few years. Paul doesn’t deny that there are risks to not vaccinating children, but he says that it’s a matter of personal freedom: parents, not the government, should make the choice. However, it turns out that other Republicans don’t agree. In this case they believe that the welfare of the community trumps the individual’s right to decide.

What that tells us is that the broader Republican commitment to libertarian principles is highly situational. Libertarians laud themselves for their philosophical consistency (though Rand Paul is a quasi-libertarian at most), but ordinary conservatives are picking and choosing based on who’s getting what and who’s paying what. In the case of something like guns, where there’s an analogous situation (individuals want to make a choice that potentially endangers others), conservatives see the gun owner getting a benefit, and one many of them enjoy. When they say that companies should be released from environmental regulations, they’re thinking about people and organizations they admire getting the benefit of unconstrained market freedom, and the cost (environmental degradation) is something they’re only marginally concerned about.

But in the case of vaccines, the beneficiaries are a bunch of wackos and conspiracy theorists who are gaining nothing more than the ability to endanger their own children, at the cost of endangering everybody else’s children. And I’m guessing it also matters that a lot of the vaccine truthers who get attention are liberals, the Marin County types who think that because they feed their children organic food that the kids will have super-charged immune systems and therefore can’t become sick. (It should be noted that vaccine trutherism is a non-partisan affliction: liberals are no more likely than conservatives to think vaccines cause autism.)

What’s more, while it’s also true that advocating for vaccines requires conservatives to agree with Science, this issue isn’t like climate change, where many on the right think the entire scientific community is engaged in a vast conspiracy of deception. On climate, people fear that they’ll lose something (like their SUVs) and have to change their lifestyle in order to address the problem; the issue also threatens their traditional allies in the energy industry. There are few such considerations in the vaccine issue.

So the vaccine issue demonstrates that while nearly every Republican agrees with libertarian ideas on some issues, this doesn’t necessarily reflect just an inviolable philosophical commitment to individual liberty. When being a libertarian means getting something they want without having to give up anything they like, they’re happy to wave the anti-government flag. But if it means their kids might get sick because some people are dumb enough to take their medical advice from Jenny McCarthy, the needs of the many begin to look much more pressing than the delusions of the few.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, February 3, 2015

February 6, 2015 Posted by | Communicable Diseases, GOP, Libertarians | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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