Vaccination becomes a more partisan issue, with Republicans on the wrong side of it

The gradual move of anti-vaccination from being a "liberal" thing to its more comfortable home being a right wing obsession got a big boost this week in California. California's state legislature is liberal, very liberal, and they are moving quickly on the pro-vaccination front. And it was that blue state senate that passed a bill removing the "personal belief" exemptions from mandatory vaccination laws. That bill just got approved by a state assembly committee, and I expect it will pass the state assembly, as well. But what's really interesting is that the committee approval was a party-line vote, with Democrats all being for the vaccination bill and Republicans all opposing.


Now you have Republicans out there, bad-mouthing pro-vaccination forces.

According to State Assembly GOP Leader Kristin Olsen, however, the idea of requiring vaccinations for children in public and private schools “erodes parental rights.” In an interview on the Broeske & Musson radio program last week, Olsen declared that, despite the Disneyland outbreak, “there’s really no need for this bill whatsoever,” dismissing it as an “emotional reaction” to a “one-time incident.”

“I think this is an example of people overreacting to incidences,” Olsen told the hosts. “What we need to make sure in Sacramento is we’re making decisions based on logic and sound data.”

This is, of course, pure horse shit. The logic-and-data forces fully support rigid vaccination laws that disallow exemptions for "personal belief", which is a code word for yuppies whose competitive parenting obsession leads them to believe that they're winning by refusing vaccination on the facetious grounds that expensive produce is a superior alternative.

I've long been saying this, but anti-vaccination is just inherently more at home with conservative ideology than liberal. Anti-vaccination is rooted in a number of beliefs and desires, all of which tend to be more Republican than Democratic. Here's a short list, though I do invite commenters to weigh in if I've missed something.

  • Purity. Anti-vaccination is rooted in irrational fears of impurity---the belief that vaccines are dirty and that you're better off with a "pure" body protected by "natural" foods---and therefore related to other purity-based causes, such as abstinence-only. Conservatives are far more likely to get sucked into purity-based arguments than liberals.
  • Children are property. A huge ideological difference between liberals and conservatives is liberals are far more likely to see children as individuals in their own right who deserve the protection of the commons, and conservatives are far more likely to see children as property that the parents should have total control over. Conservatives are far more likely than liberals to believe they should be able to beat children, force children to go to church, dictate how children dress or who they can be friends with, or prevent children from going to public school. Of course they're going to be swayed by the argument that they should be able to withhold vaccinations if they want.
  • Hostility to public health. Also see: Hostility to Obamacare, family planning programs, fluoride in the water, etc. Anything that roots the concept of health care in the common good instead of treating it as an individual luxury gets this ugly reaction, particularly when you suggest that the health care of the elite is or should not be remarkably different from what the rabble gets.
  • Status signaling. A big draw for anti-vaxxers, though they deny it, is that it's a way to signal status. The underlying argument of anti-vaccination is that your kids don't need vaccinations because they eat organic food and have an attentive mommy hovering over them every minute of the day. In other words, it's a status thing, a way to separate the health care of the elite (organic food, stay-at-home mothers) from the health care of the rabble. Never mind that the rabble's health care, in this instance, is more effective than the organic food-style health care that anti-vaxxers espouse. Efficacy is low on the list of concerns because....
  • Anti-science. I'd argue that conservatism is inherently hostile to empiricism, which they rightfully fear has the power to topple hierarchy-based authority, particularly religion, as the source of knowledge and power in our culture. But even if you reject that idea, it's indisputable that the 21st century Republican Party is anti-science, making them a comfortable home for people who want to assert that parental authority should trump evidence-based medicine in terms of creating health care policy.

Anyway, the Republican ownership of anti-vaccination has been coming for awhile, and this situation in California will likely result in a bigger push. It'll be fascinating to see how this goes, but I predict that it's  just going to get more partisan from here.