If I wanted to persuade my fellow Americans to eat more cheese, I would begin by launching a campaign to ban cheese. This might start with the argument cheese clogs arteries or lowers IQ. I’d find some doctors willing to testify that cheese inhibits testosterone, and some other doctors to insist it fouls up estrogen.
Then I would move on to the damage cheese does to the climate: too many cows, goats, sheep — methane, don’t you know. Greenhouse gases. Deforestation brought to you by cheddar. “Cheese kills!” might serve as a motto. Next, I would sort out the cheese-producing states that would have to be melted into submission, perhaps with the promise of extravagant subsidies. And last I would have to find a way to get President Biden to announce a national mandate to stamp out cheese.
Then, like a Bond villain, I would sit back and watch my cheese investments and my side bet on cracker futures soar, as tens of millions of Americans rushed out to buy as much cheese as possible. Even people with no taste for Stinking Bishop would be putting it in their larders out of sheer solidarity with Asiago. We are people, after all, who value our liberty. We know something is valuable the moment you threaten to take it away.
But we also value our freedom to defy orders. Just as easily as we could conjure a cheese frenzy, we could incite an anti-cheese rebellion by insisting that every meal include a little feta, some gouda on the side, or some Roquefort on the greens. Cheese is, after all, a germ delivery system full of exotic and potentially deadly molds: a bioweapon on toast, often imported from sketchy places. Forcing people to eat it is a way for government to invade our bodies. And it smells.
Today, Americans are hard pressed by President Biden to get vaccinated against the dreaded COVID-19 virus. A similar campaign has run or is running in many other countries. The American case stands out, however, for two features. First, it has stirred to life vigorous opposition. Second, it has put the federal government in the position of exerting powers it does not legitimately possess.
A large share of the opposition comes from black Americans, who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats and played a signal role in handing the 2020 nomination to Biden. Yet a long history of less-than-candid treatment by medical authorities has led to widespread suspicion among black Americans.
We have been inoculated at birth by a virus more potent than COVID. It is the idea of liberty.
The Tuskegee experiment — a forty-year exercise in seeing what would happen if syphilis were left untreated in black males — officially ended in 1972, but it lives on in the memory. Almost every African-American now knows the story of Henrietta Lacks, the black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951 but whose cancer cells were immortalized and became a standard for researchers. The Lacks family never knew about Henrietta’s contribution to medical science until the white journalist Rebecca Skloot made a best-selling book of the matter. Lacks is now another byword for medical exploitation of minorities.
Neither the Tuskegee experiment nor Henrietta Lacks have a thing to do with vaccines, but once broken, trust is hard to regain.
Other vax-resisters have a wide variety of complaints. Some justly point out they have gained natural immunity from having endured and recovered from COVID. Why should they submit to a vaccine that provides less protection than they already have? The answer from the everyone-must-vax crowd is that the vaccines offer “better protection” than natural immunity, but it is easy to find experts on either side of the question.
Others are roused to opposition on learning that the vaccines were developed using fetal cells harvested from aborted babies. One would have thought the pharmaceutical companies would have thought that one through, given the sensitivities of the American public. But no. The biomedical industry simply doesn’t think about such things.
Then you have worries about side-effects, which are occasionally deadly; the fear that vaccines may have unknown long-term consequences; the growing problem that the vaccines are short-lived and require boosters; the evidence of profiteering on the part of the manufacturers. But of all that pales next to the fundamental source of opposition: our resentment of being pushed around by people who tell us it’s for our own good.
We have been inoculated at birth by a virus more potent than COVID. It is the idea of liberty. Maybe we have the Delta variant of liberty. After all we got it from the English. If not for the Magna Carta, the English Constitution, or Common Law, our American founders would never have dreamed up the idea the that we have “unalienable rights,” among them “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Granted Thomas Jefferson consulted some non-English sources too, but the main idea is English in origin.
Our Delta variant just carries it a bit further. We reserve our rights to the general public and allow the government to exercise authority only in areas where we have explicitly agreed to exercise limited control. Or at least that’s how it was supposed to work and still does to some extent, despite a century of Wilsonian progressives fiddling with the 18th century documents.
President Biden is not breaking new ground in grabbing powers the Constitution doesn’t give him. Other presidents have made similar attempts to curb liberty in favor of state power. But Biden has been more in a rush and far clumsier than most of his predecessors. His ordering everyone who works for the US government, including those in military service, to get vaccinated is a raw political move that requires people to submit on pain of losing their careers. It bears resemblance to the American military’s efforts to force every soldier to undergo training in diversity/equity/inclusion on pain of expulsion. The troops don’t like it.
The vaccine mandate, regardless of its medical merits, feels more and more like an ideological imposition intended to purge the ranks of government of anyone who has a teensy bit of reservation about authoritarian rule.
The question I often hear asked is, “If the government can force me to inject pharmaceuticals, what can it not do?” Are there any real limits on our drone-driving, neighbor-watching, mask-mandating Big Brother? Any restraints on his appetite for more governmental control?
These plainly come down to the big political question posed in America right now. We have a deeply divided nation but a president who has no interest in compromise or moderation, and a Congress intent on establishing provisions for long-term rule. The vaccine brouhaha is the perfect manifestation of this madness. We have overreach on one side and defiance for the sake of defiance on the other. Few of us have forgotten than in July 2020, candidate Biden said that the Trump-ordered vaccine wouldn’t be “real” and might not be “safe.” In September 2020, Biden expressed deep doubts: “Who’s going to take the shot? Are you going to be the first one to say sign me up?” And declaring he would take the shot “only if we knew all of what went into it.”
He eventually took the shot anyway and then became its fiercest champion. His vague explanation of all this is that he didn’t trust the vaccine because he couldn’t trust anything Trump said. But the vaccine is the same regardless of who sits in the Oval Office. We are thus dealing with a thoroughly politicized branch of public health advice.
The president can’t polarize the nation without some help, and the nation’s jack-in-the-box of medical polarization is Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. I admit my own viral load of liberty particles is such that I have a strong immune reaction to just about anything the good doctor has to say. He is notorious for his ever-shifting pronouncements on COVID. Ever confident, ever changing, always somehow wrong, Fauci became a charismatic figure for COVID hysterics and the American left in general. Adulation of him bizarrely tipped into a pseudo-religion. Fauci votive candles are widely available and are not sold or bought entirely tongue-in-cheek. The man has adoring acolytes.
He is of course a major proponent of COVID vaccinations and he embodies, even more than Biden, the spirit that centralized government edicts are the right and proper way to handle health emergencies. He was preaching that doctrine well before the COVID pandemic, and even predicted a pandemic that would require a national shutdown. That prediction, published in Healio News, January 11, 2017, contained his claim that “we will definitely get surprised [by a new epidemic disease outbreak] in the next few years. Risks have never been higher.” Fauci was speaking at Georgetown University forum on pandemic preparedness. Given his involvement in funding gain-of-function research on bat corona viruses at the Wuhan Lab, suspicion has arisen among anti-vaxers and other skeptics about the federal government’s handling of the COVID crisis — mainly that Fauci may have known a little too much in advance of the actual events. This is rich soil for conspiracy theories.
In that vein, consider that one of his co-presenters at the Georgetown event was Ronald Klain, who coordinated the Obama administration’s response to the Ebola epidemic and who now serves as White House chief of staff, where he is widely thought to be Biden’s closest “adviser” It just happens that epidemic viruses have been very good for those intent on expanding the powers of the centralized state.
Therein perhaps lies an explanation as to why our liberty-primed immune system is kicking up so forcefully. Immunity to tyranny is generally a good thing, although like any immune system it can go haywire and turn against the body it is supposed to protect. The liberty-minded folks refusing to be vaccinated may, in a large degree, be doing damage to themselves. They could be foregoing a delicious cheese plate, or worse, the opportunity for sustained good health. But the doubts that grip many are a healthy response to the odors of autocracy emanating from Washington.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.