If foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, then the craniums of many Republican politicians must be huge indeed. Because inconsistency has become the hallmark of a party that flips its principles like flapjacks whenever they conflict with perceived political advantage.
The ideological pretzel dance is especially transparent whenever Republicans address policies related to the coronavirus pandemic. It would be amusing if the consequences weren’t so deadly.
First up, unavoidably, is Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Explaining his opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, Cruz told Fox & Friends that he doesn’t want government telling people what to do with their bodies. “It should be your personal choice,” he said about the life-saving vaccines. “You should make the choice based on your health, based on the decisions you want.” This week Cruz doubled down by filing two bills to ban vaccine and mask mandates nationwide. Cruz has gotten the vaccine himself, but he explained that it “made sense for me in consultation with my doctor.”
Of course, Cruz is all for anti-choice government decrees when it comes to certain other (read: female) bodies. The irony, if you want to call it that, of his statements prompted the trending Twitter hashtag #ProChoiceTedCruz, as commenters, thick with sarcasm, welcomed him to the cause of women’s reproductive freedom.
Many Republicans also oppose vaccine passports, which they abhor as a violation of their sacred right to go to bars or pump in the gym unmolested by government snoops. “This is what actual fascism looks like!” opined Donald Trump Jr. on Twitter. Never mind that the Biden administration has said it is leaving decisions about vaccine requirements up to the private sector. Republicans stand by their firm belief that free Americans should never be required to show their papers to Big Brother.
Strangely, though, GOP resistance to government-issued IDs melts away when it comes to voting. For the right to cast a ballot, these same Republicans want to impose all sorts of strict ID requirements, many out of the reach of the old, young, or lower-income voters who lean Democratic. And they are notably mum on the extensive vaccine requirements imposed on anyone seeking immigration visas, who must show proof of jabs against a range of infectious diseases, from polio to measles to hepatitis.
Then we have the spectacle of small-government Republicans wresting control of pandemic policies away from local officials. This spring, Republican-controlled legislatures from Arizona to Wisconsin to Oklahoma — at least 19 states in all — passed a raft of new laws barring local communities, school districts, and some private businesses from requiring masks or vaccines. Does the Federalist Society know about this? Some legislators tried to cloak the power grabs in the language of “personal responsibility,” but their hostility to local autonomy is hard to ignore. Apparently, principled Republicans love local government, until they don’t.
To be fair, Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas recently had the candor to admit he was wrong when he signed a bill banning local communities and school districts from imposing mask mandates back in April. But the overwhelming Republican majority in the Arkansas Legislature beat back Hutchinson’s attempt to repeal or amend the ban last week. Luckily for the state’s school-age youngsters, who have experienced a 517 percent increase in new COVID-19 cases since Hutchinson signed the anti-masking bill, a county judge has put a temporary halt to its implementation.
Such opportunistic flipflopping isn’t the broad-minded “growth” of the sort Ralph Waldo Emerson intended when he wrote about foolish consistency in his essay “Self-Reliance,” in 1841. It’s hypocrisy, pure and simple. Worse, it is prolonging a devastating pandemic that could otherwise be brought to heel. Americans who follow these “leaders” down the path of misinformation and mendacity will be led over a cliff.
It’s no coincidence that every one of the 10 states with the highest percentage of COVID-19 cases — and the 10 with the lowest vaccination rates — are controlled by Republican governors or legislatures, or both.
The good news is that rising numbers of previously vaccine-hesitant Americans are seeing through the sophistry and getting the protection they and their communities deserve. With the highly contagious Delta variant on the rise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly 800,000 vaccines were administered in a single day late last month. Apparently, saving your own life is one principle that’s building up immunity to partisan manipulation.
Renée Loth’s column appears regularly in the Globe.