This newspaper recently reported that 12 members of the state Legislature refused, when asked by The Times, to disclose their vaccination status.
To the extent that any of them offered reasons, it was, basically, that it’s nobody else’s business. “I don’t discuss my medical records with anyone but my husband and my doctor,” said Assemblywoman Laurie Davies (R-Laguna Niguel). “I’m not answering any of your questions,” said Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City). Maybe they’re being honest. Maybe these principled legislators are keeping silent to protect the sanctity of medical privacy.
But I don’t believe it.
My gut tells me that at least some of them are being disingenuous. Either they’ve been vaccinated — because they know it’s the safe and healthful thing to do — but out of sheer hypocrisy rooted in political cowardice, they’re unwilling to stand up and tell their constituents what they’ve done. Or, alternatively, they haven’t been vaccinated — presumably because they believe the claptrap they hear on Fox News — but they know they’ll take a huge amount of grief from the science-and-reality-based community if it comes out.
Either way they’re hypocrites, keeping their mouths shut because it’s politically risky to speak the truth about vaccinations.
Now if I had to guess, I’d say that the first explanation is the more likely: They’ve been vaccinated but they don’t want it known by their conservative constituents.
Eleven of the 12 who won’t disclose their status are Republicans, presumably most concerned about keeping their base voters satisfied. They’re well aware that the anti-vaxxer movement is hardening. Fueled by conspiracy theories and misinformation on social media and news outlets like Fox News, conservatives increasingly see vaccination as malevolent government overreach. Declining to be vaccinated is viewed as an emblem of liberty and independence, and a raised middle finger to liberal orthodoxy.
Elected Republicans should be fighting that, obviously. They should be using the power of their offices and whatever personal credibility they’ve got to help recalcitrant constituents understand the overwhelming value of vaccination at a time when COVID-19 has killed more than 600,000 people and caseloads are again rising. The science is irrefutable.
But, uh, wait a minute. Let’s look at it from their point of view. What’s the political advantage of speaking the truth?
When the L.A. Times calls and asks if you’re vaccinated, isn’t it easier just to keep mum and alienate no one? If many of your constituents hate the vaccine like they hate vampires, it might be smarter to keep the news of your own jab off Twitter and off your website and out of the newspapers.
I realize it’s harsh to suggest, without clear evidence, that these Republican legislators are being hypocrites, and it’s certainly possible that some of them have other reasons for keeping mum. But the sort of cynical, self-serving behavior I’ve described above would be entirely in keeping with what we’ve seen over the last few years, as otherwise rational Republicans (with some heroic exceptions) have become less and less willing to stand up to misinformation or buck the mob.
This is the direction we’ve been heading since the Trump train came barreling down the track in 2016 and Republicans decided that if they wanted to remain in power they had to get on board, not stand in the way. That’s why so few have been willing to speak out forcefully against the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. That’s why the myths about the stolen presidential election and the exaggerated specter of voter fraud have been allowed to take root. On the national level, politicians like Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who surely knows better, sold their souls to the Trumpists.
Nothing, it seems, is more important than clinging to power — even the danger of a global pandemic. Consider the hypocrisy of those like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who, when Trump was still president, praised him for saving lives with vaccines as a result of Operation Warp Speed. Now she’s tweeting that Americans should “just say no” to the vaccine and to the “medical brownshirts” showing up at the door “ordering” vaccinations.
What changed, other than the occupant of the White House and the mood of the voters?
With regard to the 11 California Republicans who won’t disclose their vaccination status — we may never know the full story. They’re not required to tell us whether they’ve been immunized or not, or why.
But my guess, and I’m sticking with it, is that some or all of these 11 Republican legislators are running scared of their conservative constituents rather than acting like leaders, standing up for the truth and urging everyone to get vaccinated. I hope I’m wrong. But I’m sorry to say it would be entirely in line with what I’ve seen in recent years.
Nicholas Goldberg | Columnist
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