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‘Freedom-loving’ conservatives stoked latest round of infection and death

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I write columns about politics and government, occasionally indulging as a frustrated sports writer; I don’t write about business or leisure activities except:

Hopes that the misery of the pandemic is over are diminishing. There are more than 75,000 new infections daily, six times greater than a month earlier, overwhelmingly from the Delta variant and almost all among the unvaccinated.

Hospital intensive care units face overcrowding, again. If the spread isn’t stopped, new variants — perhaps more lethal — will emerge.

There are a few unvaccinated for religious reasons, and people of color who have historical reasons to distrust public health workers and the CDC.

But chiefly, the vaccination failure is because Coronavirus has been politicized among conservatives, with right-wing politicians, judges, think tanks and activists charging it’s all about personal liberty. This ignores the fact that exercising those personal liberties risks the liberties — and lives — of others.

Accordingly, there is a pressing need for a more forceful public and private response to a looming crisis brought about largely through conservative hypocrisy.

Conservative Republicans used to argue that government should only sparingly dictate practices to private companies; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott are ignoring that philosophy. Republicans also used to argue that the government closest to the people governs best; their updated version adds the caveat: ‘unless local governments are run by liberals or minorities and the state government by Republicans.’

There’s the politicized judiciary. in a speech to the Federalist Society late last year — after the election — Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito lashed out at the social distancing, mask wearing and other COVID measures: “We have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged as those experienced  for most of 2020.” Of course, we actually have: rationing for food, gas and other resources during World War II; pervasive wage and price controls from 1971 to 1973.

In the main, this is more like falsely crying fire in a crowded theater — unacceptable as it endangers others. The unvaccinated and those who ignore social distancing and mask mandates are threatening others. The crowded theater term was used by High Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes a century ago; it was a bad decision, against draft protestors during World War, but a good metaphor.

Mandates are not uncommon in America.

Most every state requires drivers to have insurance. Vaccines have been mandated since the country’s inception; George Washington ordered his troops to be vaccinated for smallpox. Today, in every state, polio vaccines are required for elementary school children. If the current anti-vax right-wing social media and political echo chamber had been as robust in the 1950s during the Eisenhower administration when the polio vaccine came out, there would be a lot more iron lungs

On the public front, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told me the Food and Drug Administration “needs to rapidly” give full approval for the vaccine. That would facilitate vaccine mandates.

The Biden administration is requiring most federal employees to be vaccinated or to get tested regularly. The Pentagon is applying this to the military.

Dozens of the country’s top medical organizations — including the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association — called for health care facilities to require all employees to be vaccinated. A legal challenge to Houston Methodist Hospital’s mandate was rejected. Over 600 Universities and colleges are requiring students to be vaccinated.

Emanuel, who organized that call from leading medical groups, thinks it was “a tipping point — the floodgates are going to open.” He predicts resisters like Florida will have to back down: “Hospitalizations and deaths are really going up.” On Saturday Florida set a new high for COVID cases with 21,683.

There are a growing number of companies that are requiring employees to be vaccinated, except where prohibited by state law.

What are all those right-wing, chest-thumping anti-vax politicians, judges, think tanks and activists to do?

The exit ramp for conservatives may have been offered by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who’s running for governor of Arkansas. The former Trump press secretary blasted Washington’s “condescending politicians and bureaucrats,” praised what she called Donald Trump’s “superb” response — and then called on her constituents to take the “Trump vaccine.”

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags anti-mask Anti-vax movement Conservative coronavirus pandemic COVID vaccines COVID-19 surge COVID-19 vaccination in the United States Donald Trump Florida Greg Abbott Joe Biden Missouri polio vaccine Republican Party Ron DeSantis Samuel Alito Sarah Huckabee sarah huckabee sanders Tennessee Vaccination Vaccine hesitancy

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