“Against stupidity we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it. Reasoning is of no use. Facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved — indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied. In fact, they can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make them aggressive. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Anti-vaccine rally protesters hold signs outside of Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, on June 26, 2021. (Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP /AFP via Getty Images)
Happy Sunday! Before we get to the mail, some thoughts about a conversation I had last week with a leading Member of Conservatism Inc. We were discussing the devolution of the GOP, and I brought up the way the party was addressing the pandemic, in particular, the reckless skepticism of and opposition to vaccinations.
My interlocutor pushed back. I’m paraphrasing here, but he argued that there was nothing unusual or unexpected about Republican opposition to sweeping government mandates. This is what the GOP has been doing/saying for decades, he said.
And, if you squint hard enough — and ignore enough reality — he has a solid point.
The opposition to government mandates does have deep libertarian roots, and, in and of itself, does not necessarily mark a substantive break with modern conservatism, no matter how ill advised it might be.
But that hardly tells the story of the right’s recklessness — or the GOP’s abandonment of long-standing principles.
Opposition to vaccine mandates is not the same as:
(1) Supporting actual government mandates that prohibit local governments and private business (like cruise lines and hospitals) from requiring vaccinations. (See Florida and Texas.) To put it mildly: here is nothing conservative about these counter-mandates on the private sector, undermining private property rights, or the elimination of local control.
[Texas Governor Greg] Abbott insisted he was putting “personal responsibility” ahead of “government mandates.” But, as the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael R. Strain noted for Bloomberg, Abbott has it backward. His order, Strain wrote, “is heavy-handed government stopping private entities from exercising their own understanding of what is responsible and what their customers and employees want.”
(2) Actively discouraging the choice to get vaccines. It is one thing to argue the choice to get a vaccine should be an individual choice, and quite another to campaign to discourage individuals from making the choice to get the vaccine. Being opposed to mandates, does not inevitably lead one to denigrate the effectiveness of the vaccines, or to encourage the reckless refusal of individuals to take proper health steps. Conservatives used to call this personal responsibility.
And yet, this is what we get from BenShapiroLand’s Candace Owens:
I am not getting this vaccine. Ever! Never going to get it. I don’t care if I’m on my deathbed and they say it can save you, I’m not going to get it. I’m principally now opposed to it, and I do not understand why anyone who is healthy, able-bodied and young would ever get this vaccine if you’re not at risk of Covid.
After Trump himself endorsed the vaccines, much of the MAGA right lashed out angrily at TFG — making it clear that the issue was not simply the mandate, but the vaccine itself.
(3) Actively spreading disinformation and crank science.