A pander war by politicians on vaccines

Story highlights

  • Gloria Borger says some GOP politicians have pandered to worried parents
  • She says they should be following the advice of scientists and strongly endorsing vaccinations

(CNN)In the midst of a disheartening outbreak of measles and assorted other diseases we thought had been wiped out, comes another outbreak that has just gotten started: a GOP pander war.

And those parents who have apparently decided it is in their childrens' interests to forego vaccines are now smack in the middle of it, and with good reason: Outbreaks of the measles and whooping cough are back, endangering the youngest populations everywhere.
    Gloria Borger
    But somehow a clear issue of public health has morphed into a political debate over liberty, personal freedom and individual choice. We all understand the past debates over a possible link (now thoroughly disproven) between vaccinations and autism, and no one can challenge parents' rights to try to protect their children. But the science is now clear: vaccinations are necessary.
    What's murky is the politics. The growing anti-government animus in the country and a complete lack of trust in institutions has somehow devolved into paranoia -- that the big government-elite-corporate ideological agenda is driving the push for vaccinations. Whether it's the skeptical left or the skeptical right, it comes down to the same theory of everything: a deep-seated mistrust in institutions and an unwillingness to defer to them.
    So maybe it should come as no surprise that libertarian Sen. Rand Paul, while pointing out he's not "anti-vaccine," called it a "personal decision." Or that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, looking to burnish his conservative credentials, allowed that parents "need to have some measure of choice" about vaccinating their kids (although he later tried to soften that statement by adding there's "no question" kids should be vaccinated against measles). Is this the same Christie who, going against the advice of experts, required a mandatory quarantine of a woman returning from Africa who had been fighting Ebola to keep the public healthy? Hard to square that circle.
    In many ways, says Bill Galston, who was domestic policy adviser to former President Bill Clinton, "vaccines have become the black helicopter of medicine. People think that those in positions of institutional authority are either self-aggrandizing or possessed of some ideological mission."
    That's precisely why it's so difficult to lead in this country right now. And precisely why the country is in such need of real leaders -- maybe even someone who comes out and says there oughta be a law. Even President Barack Obama's spokesman says the President "believes it shouldn't require a law for people to exercise common sense and do the right thing."
    Maybe it shouldn't, but when children who visit Disneyland are getting sick, something is very wrong. Maybe that's why conservative pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson is for mandatory vaccines. Or why Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin is rethinking a mandate, as he told CNN's Dana Bash. "I've pulled up short of a federal mandate ... but I am really distressed by some of these comments of wannabe presidential candidates...," says Durbin. "Think of an analogy: What if I said 'It's my car, I don't want any brakes...and it just endangered my life? [But] you're endangering the lives of other drivers. That's what this is about."
    And for those zealous small-government types, consider this: Even in the most ardent libertarian circles, there's a classic theory that "the right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." It's a pretty standard argument that makes sense.
    Unless, apparently, you are running for political office.