Monday, September 20, 2021

Vaccines Forever

I am not normally in the habit of looking for wisdom in The Wall Street Journal, but this weekend's Review section seemed especially on target as our country continues to careen toward totally unnecessary pandemic mortality as a consequence of the anti-pubic health stances adopted by one particular political party's politicians and media allies. Entitled "The Long History of Vaccine Mandates in America," the section's cover article (photo) recalls the long legacy of mandating measures to protect public health, dating back to General George Washington's famous forcible immunization of his troops against smallpox during the Revolutionary War. Washington had called smallpox "more destructive to an Army in a Natural Way, than the Enemy's Sword." Thanks to compulsory immunization, however, smallpox largely disappeared from the Continental Army's ranks. 

The article recounts the subsequent introduction of the even safer method of vaccination against smallpox, famously developed by Edward Jenner in 1796. As elsewhere, there was opposition, but vaccination eventually won out. The issue of vaccine mandates was finally adjudicated by the Supreme Court in 1905 in Jacobson v. Massachusetts. In that decision, Justice Harlan famously ruled: "the liberty secured by the Constitution does not import an absolute right in each person to be at all times, and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint." Instead, Harlan argued that the Constitution rests on "the fundamental principle of the social compact ... that all shall be governed by certain laws for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people, and not for the profit, honor or private interests of anyo one man, family, or class of men."

Indeed, whenever I hear right-wingers claim that the Constitution is about "liberty," I cannot help but recall that the Constitution itself says the opposite. Yes, "the blessings of liberty" are mentioned, but only last in a long list of the social and political purposes for which the Constitution and its government were established. We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. 

Liberty follows from and only makes meaningful sense within a society committed to justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, and the general welfare.

Few ideas have done more damage to our society than the right-wing obsession with "liberty." and now it is again costing lives!

The WSJ article closes with a quote from Benjamin Franklin, recalling and lamenting the loss of his four-year old son to smallpox in 1736: "I long regretted bitterly and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of the parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen."

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