With the next Presidential election still nearly two years away, Republican leaders had been hopeful that their presidential contenders would take that time to develop sound positions on vital issues and concentrate on promoting themselves as insightful and thoughtful Americans. But it is now becoming crystal clear early on that those hopes aren't going to be realized. Even before any candidate has officially announced, the Republican clown car is already top-heavy with idiots and racing full steam ahead.
The first whack-a-doodle position to overpower a large segment of the GOP presidential crowd involves the vaccination of children against diseases. Aligning with the so-called "anti-vaxxers" is not a completely new position for Republicans. Back in one of his early terms as governor of Texas, Rick Perry went out on a limb and mandated that all young girls in his state be vaccinated for HPV before entering sixth grade - a position that some wags declared had more to do with campaign contributions to Perry from the vaccine's manufacturer than it did public safety. The Texas Legislature eventually walked him back on the issue, and Perry's presidential primary opponents smelled blood and pounced.
One of Perry's opponents, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, used a personal anecdote to attack the Texas governor. She said that a woman came up to her after one of the debates and said that her daughter suffered mental retardation from the HPV vaccine. The congresswoman from Minnesota went on to declare that the vaccine has "very dangerous consequences" and "puts children's lives at risk."
The United States had eradicated measles as a national threat by the year 2000, thanks to mandatory childhood immunizations. But over the past few years the number of children receiving those shots has dropped, and diseases once thought to be gone are reappearing. Currently there is a measles outbreak in our country that has impacted more than a hundred children. Schools which once demanded that children be vaccinated before they could be enrolled, are now backing down in the face of religious or conscientious objections - and kids are once again at risk of disease.
Last week President Obama came out in strong support of childhood immunizations, and his knee-jerk opposition immediately begged to differ. Fox commentator Sean Hannity quickly barked, "I'm not trusting President Obama to tell me to vaccinate my kids."
And just as quickly a couple of Republical presidential contenders made it an issue. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey stressed the importance of parents having a choice in the matter, as did Republican (and quasi-Libertarian) Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Paul said, "Ive heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines." (Shades of Michele Bachmann!) Paul has since backtracked and now says that he believes parents should have their children vaccinated.
From a national political perspective, the self-inflicted damage to the Republican Party appears to be sticking. The GOP continues to be seen as the anti-science party - with everything from "drill, baby drill," to denying global warming, to demanding that creationism be taught as history in public schools. It's a big hole, and they just keep digging - and nothing the national Republican Party bosses say or do seems to slow the process. To frost this week's cake, Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina has recently been quoted as saying that the government should not be allowed to mandate that restaurant employees wash their hands after going to the bathroom!
Mrs. Bill Clinton (@HillaryClinton), herself one of the most astute political observers of modern times, tweeted the following the other day in response to the anti-vaccination sentiments that seem to be taking hold in the Republican Party:
"The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccines work. Let's protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest"Just a few words, but enough to wreck a clown car!