Many years ago, William F. Buckley reflected on a friendly debate that turned suddenly when Buckley gently asked whether opposition to fluoridated water might come from legitimate principle. His opponent shouted at him about conspiratorial paranoia.
I rely on my memory of Buckley's narrative. I cannot find it. Dentists favored fluoride in drinking water for it's health effects: it prevented tooth decay and associated disease. The John Birch Society saw it as an evil plot to subvert America. That was the cause of the angry outburst that Buckley remembered. But Buckley's point was about the freedom to make irrational choices.
In 2007, when Rick Perry decided to make HPV vaccinations manditory for young high school girls, it was to prevent cervical cancer. The risks of cancer tended to increase with sexual activity.
Even in retrospect, opposition to the Perry program tends more toward Birch than Buckley. Buckley's query was philosophical and dealt with the balance between freedom and health. The Birch approach came from paranoia.
This time it's only partially that any state run program is to be viewed with suspicion. There is also the death-panel-out-to-kill-grandma level of fiction, transplanted.
Michele Bachmann knows the vaccine is dangerous, because she was stopped in a hallway by a mother who told her. The woman said her daughter "suffered mental retardation" sometime after taking the vaccine.
Even among the paranoid right, there isn't much support for the Bachmann claim. But that is not the extent of her opposition.
I'm a mom of three children And to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong. That should never be done. It's a violation of a liberty interest.
Okay, so it's the Buckley argument. If the vaccine was to be provided, it ought to have been voluntary
Except, well, it was. Parents could sign a form and exempt their children from getting the shots. It's a bit more freedom than that posed in the fluoride debate. Everyone pretty much has to drink water at one time or another.
Some conservatives at the time suggested that the voluntary part was a sham. Public schools would not be allowed to react, but private schools might take the absence of a vaccination into account, and they could discriminate. A doctor could conceivably refuse to treat a girl who was unprotected by the vaccine. Insurance rates might be affected.
Well, duh, duh, and duh. Their argument at the time seems to me to be essentially that the natural consequences of a bad parental decision should sort of be spread out among all little girls. And they were forgetting the last great consequence that might rob parents of their freedom to opt-out. Daughters might actually contract cervical cancer.
Here's where it got a little rough a few years ago in Texas. Conservatives rallied to oppose the vaccine. To prevent cancer would be very bad thing because it might make sex outside of marriage safer, less likely to produce death.
Providing the HPV vaccine doesn't promote sexual promiscuity anymore than providing the Hepatitis B vaccine promotes drug use. If the medical community developed a vaccine for lung cancer, would the same critics oppose it claiming it would encourage smoking?
Perry has backed away from that. It was a mistake on his part, he says. But back before he buckled under pressure he was a fairly good advocate. He would have been making a good point, if health was really the concern being addressed. It wasn't.
The opposition seems to me to be a little more on the mean-as-a-snake side. A potential death penalty for kids who engage in sexual activity is a good thing because it will keep at least some of them in line. Out of bed with each other. The rest? Well... they kind of deserve what they get.
It was a matter of principle. Conservative principle.
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