Rand Paul’s vaccine trutherism is paranoid, not libertarian

Rand Paul had a bad interview yesterday.

Like, really bad.

After less than four minutes, Rand had already said that most vaccines should be voluntary, warned viewers that he had “heard of” kids developing “profound mental disorders after vaccines” and, to top it all off, shushed the anchor when she pressed him for details on his newly-proposed corporate tax holiday.

Here’s the interview, courtesy of Media Matters:

The whole ten minutes is a microcosm of everything the GOP is (or should be) worried about in 2016.

In an attempt to win yesterday’s round of the Crazy Caucuses against likely GOP presidential candidate, and current New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, who made worryingly anti-vaxxer statements earlier in the day, Rand rolled the GOP’s anti-scientific paranoia, preferential treatment for corporations and good old-fashioned misogyny all into one Youtube clip.

Twitter had some fun with it, too:

But as much as anti-vaccination superstition makes people who care about civil society want to bang their heads against as many walls as they can find, some may be tempted to agree that giving parents the choice over whether to vaccinate their kids at least fits with Senator Paul’s libertarian principles. After all, didn’t you hear him say how he’s “for freedom” of all shapes and sizes?

Stop right there. This isn’t libertarianism.

Libertarianism, at its core, is the idea that society functions best when people can do what they want, keeping as many of their liberties as possible. But what separates libertarianism from straight-up anarchy is the idea that your freedom isn’t totally unlimited. Your right to move your fist does eventually end, and it ends at the edge of my nose. As long as you’re not hurting anyone you can have all the liberty you want; governments are necessary only to ensure that your actions don’t harm your fellow citizens.

And that is exactly why vaccines exist: to make sure your diseases don’t spread to others. Protecting the person receiving the vaccine is just an added bonus.

Our society has fought long and hard to make all manner of diseases obsolete, and your failure to vaccinate your kid has the potential to undo that work and put other people’s children in harm’s way. If a libertarian — especially Senator Paul, who graduated from medical school — were to ever be in favor of making something mandatory, that thing would be vaccines.

The only way for Senator Paul to square the circle and remain opposed to mandatory vaccinations is to assert, without evidence, that vaccines are in fact dangerous to those being vaccinated. And if he really does believe that, as he intimated, then why did he vaccinate his own kids?

The recent flood of GOP primary candidates to anti-vaxxer paranoia is obvious pandering to the Crazy Caucus — no one’s pretending that Chris Christie or Rand Paul really believe that vaccines are dangerous. However, it’s especially frustrating, and especially dangerous, for this paranoia to be spread by a (doctor) senator who should view this as one of the few exceptions to the rule that the government is always bad.

So, for the sake of all of our freedoms, get your kids vaccinated. There really is no choice.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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