GOP governors cry crocodile tears over vaccine mandates
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves. | Rogelio V. Solis / AP

Republican governors all over the country have waded deep into the territory of hypocrisy by taking positions in opposition to President Joe Biden’s plan to fight COVID-19. Opposing mandates for shots that they themselves have gotten even as they back mandates of their own in every one of their states exposes their hypocritical attempts to line up support from anti-vaxxer radicals in the coming GOP primaries.

It is a well-established fact that the most radically right-wing members of the Republican base are the ones that vote in those primaries.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida held an anti-Biden press conference Monday, and he visibly winced when one speaker talked about how the vaccinations alter DNA and how that was reason enough to oppose them. Vaccination does no such thing, and DeSantis, a well-educated man who himself has been vaccinated, knows this well. Nevertheless, he did nothing to counter the blatant falsehood mouthed by a co-speaker at this press conference.

Jumping aboard the GOP gubernatorial hypocrisy bandwagon the day before on Sunday was Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi. He said he was “angry” in particular about the vaccine mandates Biden placed on private companies that employ more than 100 people. “I am terrified about this move,” he said on Twitter. “This is still America and we still believe in freedom from tyrants.”

When a reporter asked whether he was calling Biden a tyrant, he said “no” but that the president’s actions were “tyrannical.”

At no point did he mention that Biden left open the option of weekly testing to people who absolutely refused to be vaccinated.

Reeves’s hypocrisy is exposed by a lot more than just the fact that he, too, has been vaccinated. His state of Mississippi has some of the strictest vaccine mandates in the country. Neither Reeves nor any of the other Mississippi lawmakers have said a word against any of their own vaccine mandates.

Mississippi law requires vaccinations against measles, mumps, smallpox, pertussis, and at least three other diseases. It goes a step further and forbids any exemptions for religious reasons, philosophical reasons, moral reasons, ethical reasons, or reasons of any other secular belief held by individuals. Conscientious objection to vaccines in general, for example, is forbidden in Mississippi.

While Reeves’s position was once a fringe one in American politics, it is now a mainstream opinion in the Republican Party. GOP lawmakers are catering to and therefore strengthening the takeover of their party by right-wing extremists who foster these positions.

“Republicans care about getting beyond this pandemic every bit as much as Democrats do,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told the New York Times earlier this week. But, he added, “politicians are certainly happy to exploit this issue for political gain, which is why I think the Republican governors are up in arms.”

In addition to DeSantis and Reeves, a long line of GOP governors have joined in the hypocrisy. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas called Biden’s mandates a “power grab,” (the kind of grab he has a great deal of experience with). Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina promised to fight Biden to “the gates of hell” (wherever that may be). Gov. Greg Gianforte of Montana called the Biden mandates “unlawful and un-American.” And Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama called the Biden moves “outrageous” and “overreaching.”

Only a few weeks ago, Ivey had condemned the unvaccinated in her state saying, “It’s time we started blaming the unvaccinated for the surge in the virus in our state. Folks are supposed to have common sense.”

They have their own mandates

Despite their attacks on Biden, in each of these GOP states, there are strict mandates for vaccinations, just like in Mississippi—and not just for children but often for adults, too. Among those adults are health care workers in those states. Again, more hypocrisy. More than hypocrisy, however, it is dangerous game-playing resulting every day in hundreds of deaths in those states.

Legal experts agree that Biden is on solid legal footing because his actions are based on federal workplace safety laws. The Biden mandates come in the form of a federal order by OSHA to keep workers safe, and are thus authorized by Congress. Claims by GOP governors then that they are unconstitutional or illegal hold no water. And Republican governors who insist that vaccine mandates are an intrusion on personal liberty ignore not only the medical facts and the law but also the policies in place in their own states.

It is not paranoia to say that whenever serious right-wing campaigns like this attack the vaccine, one needs to check the degree of involvement by the disgraced former president, Donald Trump.

When Trump was running for president in 2016, he was already attacking science by claiming that vaccines cause autism. Already then, he was laying groundwork for building suspicion of almost anything the federal government did. The political aim, which has succeeded within the GOP, was to make mainstream the idea that almost anything coming from the federal government is problematic.

The logical conclusion that right-wingers want to foster broadly is that everything should be left to the states. We can see where this leads—with the states today promulgating countless voter suppression laws and attacks on the right of choice for women.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said last Sunday on national television that federal mandates divide the country and that the best way to get things done was on the state level. This is the old argument made by “states’ rights” advocates who backed Jim Crow laws in the last century and by the secessionists who tried to save slavery and destroy the Union the century before in the Civil War. Leave it all to the states, they say.

A second dark winter?

For now, fall is almost upon us and winter will be here soon. How horrible it is to think we could have to spend a second winter under lockdown.

Some 60% of Americans have done the right thing and gotten vaccinated. Yet millions still have not. Some 1,500 of those unvaccinated are dying every day, and the sick are filling up our hospitals. The death and the sickness and another nightmare of winter all don’t have to happen. The vaccines to prevent this are here and available free to all.

If common sense rather than the hypocrisy coming out of GOP-run states would prevail, we would be living in a country where people would be rushing to get vaccinated. We would be living in a country where people would say “not one more death on top of the hundreds of thousands we have already have,” and they would be rushing out to get vaccinated.

Sadly, Biden’s actions can only go so far. The main power when it comes to health policy lies in the states, in states too easily controlled by what has become a dangerous right-wing Republican Party.

If you are among the unvaccinated reading this article, please don’t write to us about the importance of your individual freedom. If you hate masking, distancing, and all the other things you have had to deal with this last year-and-a-half, we have only one tiny piece of advice: Go right now to your nearest drug store or pharmacy and get vaccinated.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.