Chris Christie’s sop to Gardasil vaccine opponents on Sunday has set off a chain of idiotic statements by Republican Senators, an early indication that the 2016 campaign season will be an unlimited clown car of science denialism and mendacious culture war. Meanwhile, America is finally waking up to just what kind of Congress it has elected: Thom Tillis, the aggressive Republican who led the legislative charge to enact the tea party agenda in North Carolina and then won a US Senate seat in November, has come out of the germ theory denialist closet.
“I was having this discussion with someone, and we were at a Starbucks in my district, and we were talking about certain regulations where I felt like maybe you should allow businesses to opt out,” Tillis recalled. “Let an industry or business opt out as long as they indicate through proper disclosure, through advertising, through employment, literature, whatever else. There’s this level of regulations that maybe they’re on the books, but maybe you can make a market-based decision as to whether or not they should apply to you.”
Tillis said that at about that time, a Starbucks employee came out of one of the restrooms.
“Don’t you believe that this regulation that requires this gentlemen to wash his hands before he serves your food is important?” Tillis was asked by the person at his table.
“I think it’s one I can illustrate the point,” Tillis told the women. “I said, I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as the post a sign that says ‘We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restrooms.’ The market will take care of that.”
“That’s probably one where every business that did that would go out of business,” he added. “But I think it’s good to illustrate the point that that’s the sort of mentality that we need to have to reduce the regulatory burden on this country.”
The mentality Tillis wants to bring to handwashing regulations is indicative of the libertarian argument. Germs do not care about his notional markets and models. By the time Tillis’s ‘free market’ pixie dust succeeds in closing down businesses, untold numbers of Americans will be avoidably sickened, hospitalized, and even killed by microorganisms.
But Tillis is no fool; he has to know all this. Yet like any good libertarian, he also sees every sick or dead person as a profit center — a wellspring of gross domestic product. When hospitals rack up bills, the GDP goes up. If a casket and a probate attorney become necessary, the GDP goes up. Libertarian philosophy thus reduces all of life to a series of economic transactions, with each of us as a resource to be extracted over the course of our lives — and deaths. Why fight laws for cheaper, better health insurance? Because nothing can be allowed to get between
a tiger and its meat a consumer and the corporations who profit on them.
Although Rand Paul made headlines yesterday by shushing a CNBC reporter and repeating discredited anti-vaccination propaganda, I don’t think enough attention has been paid to one particular remark. Framing vaccination schedule pseudoscience as a “freedom” agenda, Paul said: “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children.” Libertarians see children as a property, a purely economic good that walks and talks –like slaves in the good old days of gold standards, before all this liberal big government nonsense about central banking, child labor laws, and the income tax got started. See how that works?
Most commentary on Paul’s day of disaster did a decent job of summing up the public health problem with his remarks. Like this one:
Paul, on the air, defended his views by saying, “I guess being for freedom would be really unusual.” But it’s not unusual to argue that your freedom can infringe upon somebody else’s. And the argument in favor of vaccination requirements is that, when you decide against inoculation, you jeopardize the health not just of your own child but also of other people in the community. That’s because failure to inoculate undermines the “herd immunity” or “herd protection” necessary to keep diseases from spreading, particularly among vulnerable populations like the very young and people with immunological problems.
As Sarah Kliff at Vox has noted, researchers say that it takes immunization rates of 92 to 94 percent in order to establish herd immunity for measles. The rate has already fallen below that in some states, and because anti-vaccination advocates tend to cluster, it’s fallen dangerously below that level in some communities. That’s why measles is starting to make a comeback, even though more than nine out of 10 Americans have gotten measles shots.
Phrases like “herd immunity” are exactly the sort of scientific verbiage against which Paul and Tillis rebel. Framing dirty hands and susceptibility to measles as ‘freedom issues’ in order to upend all rational conversation, they replace a science-based paradigm with an imaginary economic one. No libertarian would ever deign to become part of any great human herd; mandatory twenty-second handscrubbing is exactly the sort of top-down, nanny state regulatory regime that is most guaranteed to spark rebellion in men like them.
Sniffing “I guess being for freedom would be really unusual,” Paul perfectly encapsulated the inherent narcissism of his libertarian ethos. Remember, Senator Rand Paul doesn’t think he needs to update his medical training and certification as an ophthalmologist, either. Doctor Paul not only insists on his free market right to, say, conduct obsolete eye procedures and ignore advances in eye treatment to save a few bucks on annual travel and training expenses, he actually created his own ophthalmic certification board so that he wouldn’t have to meet the standards set for other doctors his same age.
Surely Ayn Rand, Senator Paul’s acknowledged hero, would applaud such inventiveness; the rest of us are left to hope that Doctor Rand keeps his hands clean.