Understanding the Underlying Thinking

Oh, it was a minor issue:

Representative Michele Bachmann seems to have found the issue she believes will allow her to distinguish herself from Gov. Rick Perry in their fight for the Republican presidential nomination – the vaccination of young girls against a sexually transmitted virus.

In Monday night’s debate, Mrs. Bachmann seized on an executive order that Mr. Perry issued requiring sixth-grade girls in Texas to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, criticizing him for an overreach of state power in a decision properly left to parents.

On Tuesday she expanded her criticism, suggesting that Mr. Perry had potentially put young girls at risk by forcing “an injection of what could potentially be a very dangerous drug.”

Mrs. Bachmann said on NBC’s Today show on Tuesday that after Monday night’s debate in Tampa, Fla., a tearful mother approached her and said her daughter had suffered “mental retardation” after being vaccinated against HPV. “It can have very dangerous side effects,” Mrs. Bachmann said.

So this vaccine causes mental retardation? What an awful man that Rick Perry must be. But Meredith Melnick at Time does what journalists sometimes actually do, just your basic fact-checking:

In fact, “mental retardation” is not a “very real concern” when it comes to vaccination. Rather, Bachmann is resurrecting the alleged connection between vaccines and mental disability – namely autism – which has been repeatedly debunked. Last year, the fraudulent research that first triggered parents’ widespread and persistent fear of vaccination was retracted by the medical journal that published it, and its author, Andrew Wakefield, was stripped of his medical license.

In August, a sweeping report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) analyzed all the available data on the adverse events associated with eight childhood vaccines and found few risks. Notably, it also confirmed that there was no connection between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) – the vaccine that so many parents still fear – and autism risk.

The IOM report also included data on the HPV vaccine, finding some evidence to indicate that the side effect of fainting was a concern. But it did not find sufficient evidence to support any side effects involving development, such as mental retardation.

Fainting? Mental retardation? The same thing? Well, no, the science is clear here:

Further, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), mental retardation is not a known side effect of the vaccine. Reported side effects include local injection site reactions, fainting, dizziness, nausea and headaches, as well as hypersensitivity reactions like rashes, hives and itching – all noted on the drug’s labeling.

The vaccine’s label also makes note of more serious but rare adverse events like Guillain-Barré syndrome, pregnancy and death, but analysis of the data show that these events were not connected to the vaccine. Rather they coincidentally occurred in people who also got the vaccine. (Indeed, imagine if a vaccine could make you pregnant?)

And then in a statement issued Tuesday, the American Academy of Pediatrics set Bachmann straight, saying her claims about the HPV vaccine have “absolutely no scientific validity.” It’s just data – “Since the vaccine has been introduced, more than 35 million doses have been administered, and it has an excellent safety record.” Here’s their statement – and it seems six million people contract HPV each year in the United States and four thousand of them die. “This is a life-saving vaccine that can protect girls from cervical cancer.” And there was this:

“Congresswoman Bachmann’s decision to spread fear of vaccines is dangerous and irresponsible,” said Evan Siegfried, a spokesman for the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership. “There is zero credible scientific evidence that vaccines cause mental retardation or autism. She should cease trying to foment fear in order to advance her political agenda.”

But that woman was crying, right there in front of her. There might be others. But, as usual, the plural of anecdote is not fact. There are no facts here. And even the right abandoned Bachmann on this – she’s making them all look foolish. Even Rush Limbaugh said she may have finally jumped the shark this time.

But why did she do this? Well, Steve Benen explains that:

Social conservatives have long been opposed to initiatives to combat the human papillomavirus (HPV), which increases a woman’s chances of developing cervical cancer. Merck developed a vaccine that immunizes against HPV infection, and it was approved by the FDA, which led the religious right to fight for restrictions. As the Family Research Council said a while back, the vaccine “could be potentially harmful” to women “because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex.”

Ah! It’s about SEX! And we know how social conservatives think. God loves you and you’re going to burn in hell. And sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you really love. But Benen notes that Rick Perry just doesn’t get it, or when he signed the executive order mandating the vaccinations he was being strangely thoughtful:

“Providing the HPV vaccine doesn’t promote sexual promiscuity any more than the hepatitis B vaccine promotes drug use,” Perry said at the time. “If the medical community developed a vaccine for lung cancer, would the same critics oppose it, claiming it would encourage smoking?”

What’s that – logic? But now Perry has to deal with that logic.

So long as conservatives believe the appropriate penalty for sexual activity is cervical cancer, this will likely remain an important part of the campaign.

After all, at a quite conservative site, consider this:

The really sad thing is that you have all kinds of “conservative Republicans” and “evangelical Christians” and “Tea Party activists” running around defending Rick Perry on the HPV vaccine issue. All of those people should be absolutely ashamed of themselves.

Why in the world should we be injecting pre-teen girls with highly controversial vaccines that are supposed to “protect” them against the consequences of “unsafe sex” in the first place?

If Bill Clinton had tried to pull such a stunt, social conservatives would have had a field day.

But because the conservative media has told them that they are supposed to worship Rick Perry they are giving him a free pass.

It says a lot about the Republican Party today that “Slick Rick” is currently leading in the polls.

Look, you can support Rick Perry if you want, but if you do, don’t even try to pretend that you are a “conservative” anymore.

So how do we define conservatism now? Michael Specter posits a special case here:

Religious conservatives have sought for some time to create a special category of illnesses: those related to sexual activity. This is absurd; viruses don’t care whom they infect. (If we had an effective AIDS vaccine, would people try to prevent young men and women from receiving it on the grounds that it would encourage them to have sex? Stay tuned.)

But see this from Dr. Henry Miller at the authoritatively-conservative-for-two-generations National Review of all places:

Gardasil has one of the most favorable risk-benefit ratios of any pharmaceutical. Having spent 15 years at the FDA and having seen regulation – the good, the bad and the ugly – up close, I am as opposed to anyone (except perhaps Ron Paul) to non-essential government intrusion into our lives. But some interventions are good … I am discouraged by politicians who not only don’t know much about science, technology, or medicine (which is perhaps understandable) but also don’t know what they don’t know (which is unacceptable).

But this is about sex, and God and all that – and about respect for life or something. If you love life you hate sex, because it’s nasty and people shouldn’t engage in it, unless they must, to create children – but they damned well better not enjoy the process. And thus you don’t remove the risks involved in the process – death from cervical cancer – precisely because those risks should be there to keep people from even enjoying doing the dirty deed, much less enjoying it.

But you can expand this notion. Not only if you love life you hate sex, but if you love life of course you oppose abortion – in all cases, including rape and incest – and you support the death penalty – probably for most felonies and maybe even some misdemeanors, depended on how incensed you are at jaywalking. Yes, this makes little sense to those who aren’t social conservatives, but Tom Flynn, Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism (a man on the outside looking in), straightens it all out for us:

Being against abortion but for the death penalty isn’t contradictory at all, for Christians whose theology has the following specific characteristics:

1) Life is a test. The sum total of everyone’s thoughts and behavior during life will determine whether he or she merits salvation or perdition.

2) God ensouls each fetus at the moment of conception.

3) Presumably, God makes allowance for the great number of zygotes that never complete their development; perhaps their souls are “recycled” into newly conceived fetuses until they finally manage to get born. But in the case of abortion, where a fetus that otherwise would have lived to be born fails to be born, due solely to human action, God makes no exceptions. Cheated of its chance to take the test of life, such a soul can never earn salvation.

Flynn does note that there are all sorts of logical problems with this theology, but he argues it does seem to be held by a great many Christians – even if he suggests they hold these views “in a naive and inarticulate way.” And one can see why:

Substitute the moment of baptism for the moment of birth, and it’s a pretty good sketch of the theology that underlay the old Catholic doctrine of purgatory, with all its fretting about the “problem” posed by babies who died unbaptized.

And one thing leads to another:

Once one holds this theology, there’s no contradiction in opposing abortion (being “pro-life”) and supporting capital punishment (being “pro-death”). The meaningful distinction is that the souls of aborted fetuses are being unjustly denied their shot at the test we call life. The “post-born,” on the other hand, got to take their test. Whatever happens to them is what they deserve.

And thus everything falls into place:

If we ascribe this view of theology to conservative Christians, a whole spectrum of otherwise contradictory elements in their rhetoric and behavior suddenly make sense. How can people who make such a fuss about unborn babies care little about the plight of poor or abused children at home or abroad? Suffering children may be piteous, but at least they got to be born – therefore, if they bear unfair burdens in life God will make it up to them in eternity. How can so many Christian conservatives prioritize abortion above social causes that seem, objectively, far more urgent? Abortion is unique in that it cheats the fetal soul of its one shot to earn salvation, making it quite literally the fate worse than death.

So you can be a champion of the unborn and at the same time be enthusiastic about capital punishment:

Death row felons took their test of life, mucked it up, and deserve what’s coming to them. And if you think capital punishment is harsh, wait till you see what God’s gonna do to them!

But of course no social conservative is going to put it that way:

Spotting a Christian conservative whose thinking runs along these lines is easy. Getting one to admit it, much less articulate it, is harder – I think many who hold these views recognize, however inchoately, that when they’re put forward in the light of day they strike many observers as, well, creepy. But I strongly suspect that’s how Rick Perry’s mind works.

And that goes double for Michele Bachmann of course. And it seems to be how the minds work of the people like those two, and their other cohorts in this, like Rick Santorum, and all those who are hoping this special theology will win one of these folks – the life-lovers-who-kill-anyone-they-can – the Republican nomination, and maybe the general election.

Enough has been said about what happened again in Tampa at the CNN/Tea Party Express debate – Wolf Blitzer put a hypothetical question to Ron Paul. What should happen if a healthy thirty-year-old man who can afford insurance chooses not to buy it – and then becomes catastrophically ill and needs intensive care for six months? Ron Paul fumbled around a bit, wistfully recalling the good old days before Medicare and waxed poetic about how we should all take responsibility for ourselves. But Blitzer pressed him – “But, Congressman, are you saying the society should just let him die?” And at that point, the crowd erupted – in loud cheers and whoops of “Yeah!”

Yep, as with those who would prefer that women risk cervical cancer, they do love life. That’s what they say. You just have to understand the underlying theology.

But Steven Colbert has a bit of fun with that:

Nation these debates are supposed to help us find the Republican presidential candidate, but they have already helped them find his running mate: the Grim Reaper. That’s right, the Angel of Death. Clearly he is popular with the GOP base this year. He’s got all the qualifications they’re looking for. He’s old and bone white, he’s packing a weapon, he’s got an incredible war record, and believe me, no one wants to get rid of Obama-care more than this guy. Plus, he is a close second to Rick Perry in executions.

Well, that makes as much sense as any of this. Conservative theology is mysterious. And then you get news stories like this:

The sister of a black Mississippi man killed in what authorities have labeled a hate crime is asking prosecutors not to pursue the death penalty against anyone accused.

Authorities say James Craig Anderson, 49, was targeted because of his race and run over by a white teenager in a pickup truck on June 26. His death, captured on a hotel surveillance video, stoked anger across the country when the footage was made public.

Anderson’s sister, Barbara Anderson Young, wrote to Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith saying her family doesn’t want anyone to face the death penalty. She cited the family’s Christian beliefs and opposition to capital punishment.

“Those responsible for James’ death not only ended the life of a talented and wonderful man,” says her letter, dated Tuesday. “They also have caused our family unspeakable pain and grief. But our loss will not be lessened by the state taking the life of another.”

What? America’s social conservatives will be up in arms about this. What’s wrong with this woman? Well, what’s wrong with this woman is what divides us all right now.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Conservative Thought, Conservative Values, Conservatives and Sex, Michele Bachmann, Social Conservatives, Vaccination Controversy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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