People have debated for eons whether the “end justifies the means.” But most would agree that in really important matters you sometimes need to be less than fully fastidious about your allies or their “facts” and arguments. Last week I suggested it might be wise to suppress laughter at an argument Alabama senator Tommy Tuberville was making in an exchange with Dr. Anthony Fauci about the quickest way to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates in his very red state: giving Donald Trump a lot more credit for making the vaccines possible:
[A]t first it may seem hilarious that he figures Alabamans will run to get a shot in the arm if they think it will honor the 45th president. But he may have a point. Self-identified Republicans may be resisting vaccination in part because they perceive it as something the Biden administration wants to happen, or falsely believe it will be imposed upon them by Big Government. If vaccination seems Trumpy instead, rates could go up significantly in deep-red territory.
Fauci agreed the Trump administration deserves credit for the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccine, presumably in hopes that Republicans who have been taught he is the Antichrist will reconsider their views. He probably inwardly rolled his eyes, but getting shots in arms is more important than strict accuracy about who did what and when.
But then the dominant political figure in one of the hardest-hit, least-vaccinated states showed how much historical inaccuracy may be necessary to boost vaccination rates. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former Trump press secretary and the overwhelming favorite to win the 2022 Arkansas gubernatorial race, penned an op-ed that wields a howling Big Lie for a good cause:
… Dr. Fauci and the “because science says so” crowd of arrogant, condescending politicians and bureaucrats were wrong about more than their mandates and shutdowns that have inflicted incalculable harm on our people and economy. They also misjudged the Trump vaccine plan, which rolled out just as safely, quickly, and effectively as the Trump administration promised.
When the Trump administration initiated Operation Warp Speed in May 2020, the president stated that a vaccine would become available by December of that year at the very latest. From the moment he made his announcement, the “expert” class tried to undermine those statements with baseless fear-mongering.
The New York Times ran an opinion piece claiming that whatever the Trump administration released would likely be a dangerous political stunt. CNN did the same. But no one did more to undercut public confidence in the vaccine than Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Biden doubted that the vaccine would be “real,” while Harris said in a nationally-televised debate that she would not take any vaccine the Trump administration had a hand in creating.
We all know what happened after the first vaccines were announced on Nov. 9, right after the presidential election. Scientists quickly began to praise the results of Operation Warp Speed, but by then the damage was already done. Because of what they heard from politicians and TV “experts,” many Americans were scared the vaccines were not safe.
If President Biden, Vice President Harris, and others on the left truly care about increasing the vaccination rate and saving lives, they should admit they were wrong to cast doubt on Operation Warp Speed and give President Trump and his team the credit they are due for the development of a safe and effective vaccine in record time.
First of all, Sanders is ripping what Biden and Harris (and for that matter, mainstream media outlets) said about Operation Warp Speed far out of context. They both said they would trust scientists and public health officials on the reliability and safety of the vaccines, and merely doubted how Trump would roll them out. And the idea that Dr. Fauci sought to undermine faith in the vaccines is entirely unsupported.
But second of all, even if you buy the dubious idea that Biden, Harris, and Fauci were trashing vaccines at a critical juncture, it’s ridiculous to believe that they had a pervasive and persistent impact on red-state residents’ perceptions — perceptions Sanders now wants to change with the good news that shots in the arm were all Trump’s idea!
Based on the advice of my doctor, I determined that the benefits of getting vaccinated outweighed any potential risks. I was also reassured after President Trump and his family were vaccinated. If getting vaccinated was safe enough for them, I felt it was safe enough for me.
Sanders goes on to refer to the “Trump vaccine,” as though it had to be politically branded to be acceptable. And after some throat-clearing about her violent opposition to coercing anybody to do anything related to COVID-19, she trots out standard public health data on vaccinations and their effect on the pandemic just like Fauci or one of those other “arrogant, condescending” experts.
We hear a lot about the ill opinion liberals have of Trump supporters, and I often agree it is both uncharitable and counterproductive. But I have never seen anyone on the left or center who can match the cynical contempt Sarah Huckabee Sanders appears to have for her own home-state base. She thinks they can be retroactively convinced to forget the massive hostility of Trump supporters for anti-COVID-19 public health measures — including vaccines, public or private vaccine mandates, and the imaginary “vaccine passports” — and embrace the Trump vaccine on grounds that they were unknowingly bamboozled by “the left” to stay unvaccinated. If she and other latter-day converts to the cause of vaccination succeed in helping fight the Delta variant, I guess it’s worth the lies, including the Big Lie that Democrats were all vaccine skeptics until Biden took office. But the smell of brimstone that surrounds Sanders like the devil’s eau de cologne is going to linger.