Politics, Moderate

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Politics

We love to hate the government. Then along came measles.

Catherine Rampell on

Americans love, love, love to hate on government, for all its foibles and failures.

But we conveniently forget that good government has also solved, curtailed or prevented a lot of problems over the years, including epidemics, economic ills and environmental crises. When government works, it becomes largely invisible, taken for granted, wiping out both crises and the traumatic memories of those crises. Bad government we remember and loathe and curse to our children; but good government is often a victim of its own success, the cure so effective that we forget how horrifying the ailment it eradicated was.

That has been quite literally true when it comes to public-health crises once thought consigned to history, such as the current measles outbreak.

Nearly two decades ago, measles was declared eliminated from the United States. This achievement was due to good science, yes. (Researchers developed a vaccine in the 1960s.) But we can also credit good government policy, as jurisdictions around the country began subsidizing and ultimately mandating childhood immunization.

More recently, this highly contagious and potentially fatal disease has returned, ravaging communities around the country. Since January alone, 940 individual cases of measles have been confirmed across 26 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The far right's response to this outbreak, bizarrely, has been an outcry for government to ... butt out.

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Some of these calls are motivated by pseudoscience linking vaccines to autism (a link that was long ago debunked, though still propagated by conspiracy theorists on both the left and right, including President Trump). Lately, more have been motivated by libertarian zealotry.

A "Liberty Loving Republican" Texas lawmaker recently referred to vaccines as "sorcery" and compared government-mandated inoculation to communism. The Republican governor of Kentucky likewise said policies mandating vaccination are un-American; one of the U.S. senators from his state, Rand Paul (R), echoed that government-required immunizations are a threat to "liberty," even though he's a physician who should know better.

In other states where officials are trying to tighten vaccination requirements, including Maine, Washington, Colorado and Oregon, "nearly all of the opponents are Republicans who've taken a medical freedom stance," as Politico noted in a recent article. In California -- where 900 students on two college campuses were recently quarantined -- every single Republican state senator opposed a recent measure cracking down on immunization exemptions.

Thankfully -- at least for the time being -- these outbreaks appear mostly contained, a credit to the herd immunity developed by decades of mandatory vaccinations. But that false sense of security has only emboldened those ideologues to proclaim that perhaps we don't need the very government policies that reduced the threat.

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