When you grow up in a particularly conservative part of the country at a particularly conservative time in history, as I did, an idea gets drummed into your impressionable little head: that the Republican Party is “the party of personal responsibility.” Ronald Reagan, in a quote you’d see and hear an awful lot, said, “It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” It’s preposterous, of course, the idea that accountability lives at a specific point on the left-right continuum, the notion that anyone anywhere has ever said, “I don’t believe that each individual is responsible for his actions.” But conservative people loved Ronald Reagan, and everyone loves quotes that flatter them, and so by simple repetition, it became an accepted truth. Republicans are responsible people, and everyone else, on some level, is just fucking around.
On a completely unrelated note, this past weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a crowd cheered for a deadly respiratory illness.
Yep. Alex Berenson is up there crowing about how the Biden administration has missed its goal of getting 90 percent of Americans vaccinated against COVID-19, the virus that brought our world to a standstill from which we are just now starting to come out, the virus that has killed over 4 million people, including 606,000 Americans, and counting. Berenson did not take the responsibility to check his numbers—Biden’s goal was 70 percent with at least one dose by July 4, and we’re now at roughly 56 percent—but the result is that the audience, upon hearing that a goal of President Biden’s has not been met, simply erupts into enthusiastic applause. This roomful of adult human beings puts its hands together for more death.
Jesus H. Christ. Put any other common-sense measure in place of vaccination. Pretend this guy is up there boasting about how many more people are disregarding drunk-driving laws these days, and think about what that applause would mean. Celebrating low vaccination rates is actually worse, more selfish and less responsible; drunk drivers kill people, but they don't spread their high BAC level to the other drivers on the road and send them off to kill more people.
I know that it is unwise to extrapolate any larger meaning from what goes on at CPAC. These are the weirdos, the die-hards, the boat owners. If Republicans are Star Trek fans, CPAC attendees are the ones who speak fluent Klingon. But some of these fucking goofballs are elected officials. While there, Rep. Madison Cawthorn said of a Biden administration plan to send local volunteers door-knocking to encourage vaccination: “They could then go door-to-door and take your guns, they could go door-to-door and take your Bibles.” Yes, if government employees can show up at your door with vaccine information, what could they do next, deliver your bills and correspondence to some sort of box?
While there, Rep. Lauren Boebert, whom I hope you will join me in calling “Lazy Chabert” from here forward, did a monologue in the style of someone who's just watched a Chris Rock special but put it on mute because of the swears.
You know by now that the ten states with the highest vaccination rates all went for Biden in the 2020 election and the ten with the lowest all went for Trump. You’ve seen the map of vaccination rates by state and how hard it is to distinguish from an electoral map. You know that the biggest spikes in COVID cases per capita are happening in the states with the lowest vaccination rates, including Missouri, where I was raised to be personally responsible. My hometown of St. Louis just had to send ventilators to nearby Springfield, whose surrounding counties have vaccination rates in the teens and twenties. In Southwest Missouri, there are more people in intensive care from COVID-19 than there have been since December 2020. “Early on, there was only so much you could do to prevent yourself from getting it,” Dr. Henry Jarvis, a Springfield ER doctor, told the Kansas City Star. “Now, it’s a really conscious choice that ‘I don’t need to get a vaccination.’ There’s a different level of frustration, because we’re seeing something that we really don’t have to be seeing.”
If you haven’t gotten the vaccine because you’ve “done your research,” let me just tell you something real quick: you have not “done your research,” you have “gone on the Internet.” You know who does their research? Scientists. Virologists. Immunologists. They study and analyze and peer-review. You Googled. You went on the big beautiful Internet that God gave us, an Internet with thousands of pictures of Jack Grealish’s calves, and you used it to find someone to justify what you were already going to do. Who cares if it was a misspelled Reddit post with a hand-drawn pie chart from ronburgundy420; you found it and now you’re a willing host for a virus that’s still evolving and mutating.
Again, this is CPAC, the Woodstock ‘99 of conservative festivals. But it’s not just happening there; increasingly, Fox News is airing anti-vaccine content, framing efforts to encourage vaccinations as “THE LEFT’S COVID POWER GRAB.” Are their on-air talent vaccinated themselves? Yes; they told you as much when capitulating to anti-vaxxers wasn’t good business, before they lost some audience share to Newsmax and OAN. They’re safe and sound. Springfield isn’t.
We have somehow managed to politicize caution. We have officially pushed every single thing through this tired left-vs-right binary, because now we have people cheering against the common good. Courtesy, compassion, safety: these are fronts in the culture war now.
Things change slowly. You can be smug about personal responsibility one day and then self-identify as a member of a party whose biggest dorks are doing The Wave for a pandemic some time later. But if you still believe what you were fed in the 1980s, if you vote Republican because that’s what responsible people do, if you’re one of those moderates who must exist out there, look where we are. You helped do this.
If you voted for this circus, take some personal responsibility. Please come help us clean up the elephant shit.
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