As the anti-vaccine controversy dominated the news cycles, many politicians weighed in, including potential Republican candidates for president. Sen. Rand Paul, heir apparent to his father’s movement, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, considered by many to be a moderate Northeast Republican, both stated that vaccines should be voluntary.
Christie stated his belief in the importance of vaccines, and that his children are vaccinated. However, he also stated, “Parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well.”
Christie, usually blunt, appeared to be walking a tightrope between the opposing sides. Paul stated in an interview with CNBC: “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children, and it is an issue of freedom.”
However, there is a contradiction in conservative philosophy and the Republican Party platform. If we take conservative arguments against mandatory vaccines and replace the word “parents” with “women,” and “children” with “uterus,” conservatives believe the opposite when it comes to abortion: The state doesn’t own your uterus. Women own their uterus, and it is an issue of freedom.
UT's chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas professed the same conflicting statements regarding the two issues: "YCT is 100% pro-life," and "YCT is not against vaccinations but we do believe that individuals should have the right to opt-out."
Conservative philosophy argues that the government does not have the right to legislate parents’ decisions for their children, but argues that the government has the right to legislate women’s decisions concerning their own bodies. It’s more than simply an “issue of freedom.”
For the sake of argument, let’s consider the conservative belief that abortion is morally wrong. In this case, a woman’s decision affects the fetus in her womb and herself. Abortion is a private decision. Not vaccinating your children contributes to the resurgence of deadly diseases that present a serious danger to the entire population. Plus, the scientific community has debunked the claim that these vaccines have such negative effects. A parent’s decision not to vaccinate their children affects many beyond their own children. It’s a public decision. It becomes a public health concern.
You can’t falsely shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, you can’t drive a car as fast as you would like and you can’t drive drunk. You aren't allowed to do these things because doing so puts many other people at risk of injury or death.
Not vaccinating our children puts many other people at risk of serious illness and death. You need to vaccinate your children, and the government should make us. We all hate speeding tickets, but without speed limits the roads would be much more dangerous. We should not sacrifice health and safety for the sake of blind freedom. Freedom for the sake of freedom is not good policy.
While the GOP probably views it as a necessary compromise, the hypocrisy undermines their platform. The first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, famously said, “A house divided itself cannot stand.”
The Republican Party will not fare well in 2016 if the candidates have to split their allegiance between the social conservatives and the libertarians still in the closet. Republicans either need to embrace personal freedom across the board or cut the tea party loose.
What if the anti-establishment conservatives had to fend for themselves? What if all the pot-smoking gun enthusiasts had a party to call their own? What if there was a new legitimate third party? A new libertarian party could pull a substantial amount of Republicans out west (Colorado and Washington), socially-liberal-fiscal-conservatives and many young people disillusioned by Democrats’ and Republicans’ similarities. A Libertarian party free from the Republican establishment has real potential. If the right candidate went viral on the Internet, he or she could poll at 15 percent and participate in the presidential debates.
We cannot have a real debate or productive dialogue with such ideological contradiction. All I’m asking for is consistency. Be true to yourselves. And please, for society’s sake, vaccinate your kids.
Burchard is a Plan II senior from Houston. Follow Burchard on Twitter @nathburch.