Analysis: 'No Mandates! Mandates!' Cries the Republican Religious Right

 

We at the Justice Integrity Project are pleased to present another guest column on a timely topic by Dr. Steven Jonas, right, MD, MPH, MS, a professor emeritus stephen jonasof Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook Medicine (NY) and author / co-author / editor / co-editor of over 35 books. He has been published also on many current affairs news sites. His own political website,stevenjonaspolitics.com, will eventually archive the close to 1,000 political columns he has published since 2004.

He was also a stony brook medicine2career triathlete (36 seasons, 256 multi-sport races), who is now retired from the sport.

His latest book is Ending the ‘Drug War’; Solving the Drug Problem: The Public Health Approach, Punto Press Publishing, (Brewster, NY, 2016). It is available on Kindle from Amazon, and also in hardcover from Amazon. In 1996, he published a ‘future history’ of the United States entitled The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A Futuristic Novel (Third Edition published by Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, and also available on Amazon.

By Dr. Steven Jonas

"No Mandates! No Mandates!! No Mandates!!!" This seems to be the common approach to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic adopted by the vast bulk of the Republican Party, elected and otherwise. "It's my body. They're my children," and "And I get to decide," etc.

That is the common response emanating from the Right whether we are dealing with company- or government-mandated COVID-19 vaccination for their employees, or mandatory mask-wearing in schools and restaurants, and everything in-between,  (By the way, while I have not seen any calls from any responsible sources calling for mandatory vaccination of the population in general, the far extremes of the anti-vaxx movement, both Right and Left -- [and yes there is a small, but very vocal, left-anti-vaxx movement] -- scream about that possibility on a regular basis.)

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2As many of the readers of these columns know, it happens that I come to this subject from a career as a public health physician.

In that light, a couple of weeks ago my oldest son asked me if I knew of any other major pandemic in history that had been politicized the way this one has been. I replied that while I certainly had not studied the history of pandemics in any detail, I certainly did not know of any major one in which political forces had intervened to promote interventions or lack thereof that would actually end up promoting the spread of the disease. Which the anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, let's-wait-until-people-get-sick-and-then-treat-them crowd do. Although COVID-19 is a particularly challenging type of viral respiratory disease, the public health basics for dealing with it are still very straightforward: "social distancing," masking, testing-contact-tracing-isolation, and, when available, vaccination.

ron desantis oBut what we have here -- and it started with Donald Trump -- is on the Right the politicization for electoral purposes of the responses or non-responses to it. (For example, see the first ten paragraphs or so of my recent column on this same subject, "Why Anti-Pandemic Control: from the Right" for a summary of my writings over time on that subject.)

This is all precisely what Republicans from Texas Gov. Greg Abbot to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are doing. Florida recently suffered its highest increase in number of COVID-19 deaths yet. And they intend to go beyond their own states in spreading their disease-spreading policies.

In a fund-raising letter of August 9, 2021, DeSantis, left, made this very clear, when he said: "The Left is currently doing everything they can to take [your] God-given rights away from you." (Further, on a different note, do note there that DeSantis is talking about "God-given" rights, not those that are protected by, say, the Constitution, for all Americans, believers or not.)

  • Editor's Note: See below in an appendix for a daily update of pandemic news and views, beginning Sept. 1.

Killing People

Of course, their policies are killing people in their states, “believers” or not. These policies are producing excess numbers of cases and deaths and thereby overwhelming hospital systems. That affects not only those infected with COVID-19 but also other persons who might need, say, an important surgery, but cannot get admitted because all of the beds are full.

Concerning masking and turning to Texas as an example, while Health authorities and university researchers have said masks are an effective way to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Gov. (and GOP Presidential nominee-wanna-be) Abbott has argued that his executive order prohibiting mask-mandates allows Texans to rely on "personal responsibility rather than government mandates."

greg abbott CustomNow this is an absolutely fascinating statement in the context of "when Abbott does believe in one particular mandate." It is one that happens now to be firmly implanted in Texas law and Abbott, right, led the charge to put it there, a subject to which we shall return shortly.

In any case, these COVID-spreading policies are adopted because as noted by me and many other observers, as Republican politicians they've got their eyes on all those “anti-vaxx/anti-mandates” Republican primary voters, and then on to all those minority-majority anti-vaxx/anti-mandates Republican voters in all of the gerrymandered/voter-suppressed states, who they are setting up for hopefully (for them) easy wins in 2022 and 2024. And so on and so forth.

Funnily enough (actually, it is not funny at all), their "no-mandates” position applies only to this particular preventable disease. Although they have not made themselves clear on this one, as school comes back into session in their states, they do not seem to have taken a position against the mandating of the standard set of required vaccinations for school children over time (wait for it), most if not all of: diphtheria / tetanus / pertussis / polio /measles / mumps / rubella / hepatitis B / varicella / meningococcus / hepatitis.

polio iron lungs 1950Hm. That is odd, is it not? Anti-one-kind-of-infectious-disease-protectve-mandate-but-not-a-whole-bunch-of-others (even though no one is calling for mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for student school attendance, just mask-wearing). And then what about mandates on such public health matters as the prohibition against defecation into a public water supply. Presumably Abbott would support that mandate (but, I do have to say "Hey, you never know").

Well even odder in this context is what kind of government-mandates-concerning-health-and-personal issues they, and every other Republican Governor with whose position I am familiar, are for, beyond the arena of preventable infectious disease. And what would that be? Why the mandate that every pregnant woman carry every pregnancy to term, whether they want to or not. And Abbott is hell bent for leather on this one. NO abortions after 6 weeks (at which time most pregnant women don't even know that they are pregnant). Absolutely not. None.

How does Abbott justify his position? Well, pregnancies are "gifts from God," don-cha-know. As he has said: "Life is a gift from God, and we must do everything we can to defend Texans' most basic rights endowed by our Creator and guaranteed in the Constitution." Can't interfere with that, don-cha-know. And that “right” applies to a fetus that has been in existence for as little as six weeks (when it is approximately the size of a blueberry). And how does Abbott know that? Well, he just does, and that's that.

Which brings us right into the classical position of the Republican Religious Right: that their religious beliefs can determine, with the force of law, the constraints and restraints in terms of pregnancy and its outcome on any woman, whether or not that woman a) believes in "God,” and b) even if she does, if she believes that "God" does not prohibit abortion when she decides that having one is in her best interest (that is, in my view, up to the time of fetal viability), and perhaps of the fetus too. As regular readers of mine know, I have written regularly on this issue: how the Republican Religious Right wants to establish a political system based on religious authoritarianism and impose it on the entire population, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof.

And so, it can be seen that there is an open attack line on these Republican governors in particular, and the Republican Religious Right voters in general, of which one would guess many are also "no-maskers/anti-vaxxers." (I have no idea how many of the of the latter are also anti-abortion-rights, but a good guess is: many.) Their side is for no mandates when it comes to protecting the health of the public in general (and even themselves in particular). But when it comes to mandates concerning the outcome of pregnancy when the fetus is still in the womb, they are all for them.

And as for the argument against we public-health-mandates supporters that "OK, if you are going to be for no mandates when it comes to the outcome of pregnancy then you too are being totally contradictory when it comes to supporting mandates to promote the health of the public." Well, no. First, for mandates to protect the health of the public, there are many and they are a) already in widespread use and b) they are supported by science. Second, mandates for, say, mask-wearing, are conditional: you don't have to wear a mask everywhere and anywhere, only when you want to, or have your child be eligible to, engage in activities that put others at risk. These are public health/health-of-the-public considerations.

On the other hand, as noted above every proposed mandate for carrying pregnancy to term regardless of the wishes of the pregnant woman is based on some concept of "God" and related religious doctrine, such as the notion that "life begins at the moment of conception." That is, the mandate that every pregnancy should be carried to term regardless of the beliefs of the pregnant woman is based entirely on someone else’s religious belief, the imposition of which on the general population just happens to be prohibited by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

So, some mandates (such as forcing any pregnant woman to carry the pregnancy to term, as it happens is in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because any such mandates are always promoted on a religious basis) are OK with the Republican Religious Right and indeed are found at the center of their doctrines. But others, such as those dealing with the health of the public, are not OK. It seems to me that this might provide a good opening for an expansion of the bases for the campaign to maintain that the decision on the maintenance or not of a pregnancy is to be left entirely with the control of the pregnant woman, up until the time-of-viability, and beyond it if the life of the mother or the fetus is threatened.

 Editor's note: This column was previously published here by BuzzFlash, which also published extensive links for reference purposes as well as a reader comment section.

 

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Related News and Commentary

Chris Mora of California sits amid the art installation “In America: Remember,” which features flags representing every death from covid-19 in the United States, on the National Mall on Sept. 24. (Craig Hudson/For the Washington Post)

Chris Mora of California sits amid the art installation “In America: Remember,” which features flags representing every death from covid-19 in the United States, on the National Mall on Sept. 24. (Craig Hudson/For the Washington Post). The symbolic heart of Washington has been covered by nearly 700,000 white flags, each about a foot tall, representing the American lives lost to covid-19 and holding written memories from loved ones. The flags have been packed tightly into 60-foot-by-60-foot quadrants on 20 acres near the Washington Monument and the National Museum of African and African American History and Culture.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: What the 700,000 flags I put on the National Mall really mean, Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg (a social practice artist), Oct. 1, 2021. Twenty-five years of hospice volunteering has taught me that the most important thing we can afford people is their dignity.

That lesson formed the backbone of “In America: Remember,” my art installation that for the past three weeks blanketed Washington’s National Mall with 700,000 fluttering white flags, each one representing an American lost to the coronavirus pandemic. The art is an effort to reclaim the dignity of 700,000 people who have become reduced to a single number, a number too large to fathom.

My project began with outrage. I was outraged we had elected officials who would devalue the lives of the elderly, the poor and people of color in their approach to managing the pandemic. I was outraged we had allowed the death toll here in the United States to become so large as to be incomprehensible.

But the deeper meaning came when I heard the stories. In person, they poured out. Many visitors used the Sharpies we offered them to write their own dedications directly onto the flags. With each of their stories, my anger gave way to their outcries of grief.

 

 Recent health-related news and comment is provided below in reverse chronological order via selections by the Justice Integrity Project. Dr. Jonas is not responsible for the selections:

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