I wrote several articles for The Statesman last semester and was honored, not to mention grateful, when my editors offered me my own column over winter break. My uncle, when I told him this, offered me a great piece of advice: don’t be overly negative.
There are too many people in the newspaper and media business these days who do nothing but complain and lament, he said.
He is right. Negativity and anger are often used as fuel to garner high ratings or a larger readership. So as I thought of what I would like to write about, I decided that I would start off on a positive note. I had planned to write about my first semester at Stony Brook and all these amazing experiences and opportunities I had presented to me. It would be full of praise for the university that often gets the short end of the stick from many of its students, including at this paper.
I would still like to write that article, but I am afraid that it will have to wait. Something much more pressing, and unfortunately more negative, has come up.
Gov. Chris Christie, on the second of this month, told reporters in Cambridge, England that he and his wife have vaccinated their children, but that he also understands “that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well,” and, “that’s the balance that the government has to decide,” according to the Washington Post and other major news organizations.
Christopher, what in the hell are you thinking? As one of my colleagues at the The Statesman said when we discussed topics for the week, “vaccinate your stupid kid you idiot.” If a childless college student can give better parenting advice based solely on common sense than a father of four and the Governor of New Jersey, the Governor has some serious issues to get past.
The growth of the anti-vaccination movement in the last decade has created a vulnerability in what was a near perfect system tasked to defend the masses from various diseases. Some children cannot receive certain vaccines for an assortment of reasons ranging from allergies to immune system disorders. However, these children should generally be safe because the majority of the populace that surrounds them will be vaccinated and the exposure to the diseases vaccinations prevent will be minimal. Once parents stop vaccinating their children because of celebrity-sponsored fear mongering, the odds of being exposed to and subsequently spreading the diseases goes up significantly.
There is no legitimate scientific evidence that indicates vaccines are related to autism risks, the most notable complaint out of the anti-vaccination movement. That doesn’t stop a small, yet still significant, percentage of parents from putting their children and the children of others at risk.
After Christie made his comments, and international headlines, his team quickly released a statement saying he “believes vaccines are an important public health protection” and insisted “there is no question kids should be vaccinated.” His fellow Republicans jumped to his aid, echoing the backtracking statement’s sentiment, but many, including 2016 presidential-hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, stated they believed that it was not the government’s place to mandate vaccines.
Public leaders like Christie and Cruz and Barack Obama (who stated that he believed science on vaccines in relation to autism was inconclusive back in 2008, but who has since become vehemently pro-vaccines, particularly in recent days) have an ethical obligation to not give movements with dangerously idiotic causes encouragement or a sound bite to use.
By conceding that there should be an open conversation when there should not be, these politicians are giving an ounce of legitimacy to those who are anti-vaccine, furthering their cause. They get more media coverage and while most will denounce them some uneducated, easily influenced, or overly concerned mother will join them and their numbers will grow, putting more lives at risk.
This whole ordeal is one of the more deadly products of the anti-science tendencies that have been embraced by the right wing of the American political landscape. The anti-vaccination movement is actually an issue with support from the far reaches of both side of the aisle, but in large part it is the Republican Party who has become the “Party of No.”
Republicans use to be the Party of Progressivism (way back in the days of McKinley the Dead, Roosevelt the Moustached, and Taft the Large) who supported preservation of natural resources and dabbled in fighting the unregulated industrialists of the day. If the Republicans want to be taken seriously on a national level they need to stop battling science on principle. They do not believe in climate change. They do not believe being gay is not a choice. If they jump the Democrats to the punch and become the party of progressivism again, letting the battle against science whither and die, they will have a chance to maintain national relevancy, initiate their own economic reforms and fight for social issues they actually have a foot to stand on. They should choose to focus on abortion and marijuana legalization if they truly believe the first involves the ending of a human life and the second is an unnecessary vice. I am not saying they are necessarily right or wrong, but there is actual, legitimate debate to be had when it comes to those issues, unlike gay marriage, environmental protection and vaccine usage.
Christie made the comments he made because he is seriously considering taking a shot at the White House in the coming years. He will not win, his shtick only works in places like New York and New Jersey, kind of like Giuliani, but he is probably going to try anyway. Like many Republican presidential candidates, he thinks he has to cater to the far right, the radical Tea Partiers, the kind of people who do not vaccinate their kids and think being gay is a lifestyle choice, as former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas said last month.
Christie, who is generally considered to be a moderate, feels he has to appeal to the Tea Party if he wants to stay with the pack. He does not. He should not. And as loud mouthed as he can be, a political figure in his position should make sure what they are saying does not accidentally encourage people to act dangerously and in a way that has potentially fatal consequences.