(Graphic by Jor Ayl [Public Domain] via Flickr)

“Eventually they‘re going to shut this carnival down.”

Berry Craig
Berry Craig

After talking with members of the far-right-wing, conspiratorialist, Red-baiting John Birch Society, the Cold War version of today’s Covidiots, Kentucky Republican Sen. John Sherman Cooper concluded that they “don’t know anything about history” and evidently “never read anything at all.”

So here’s a short history quiz for Covidiots – whose ranks include latter-day Birchers. (Of late, the Birchers have been podcasting against "Covid 19 mania.") The society claims "ratcheting up pressure to strip away additional liberties from those who choose not to get inoculated ... is a classic Communist tactic of dividing the people to distract them from what is really going on."

Question 1. Who said heads of households should make their children get vaccinated promptly or suffer harsh punishment.

A. Xi Jinping, ruler of communist China

B. Kim Jong-un, ruler of communist North Korea

C. Andy Beshear

D. None of the above

Question 2. What famous commander forced all of his men to get vaccinated? (The guy is revered in his country as the ultimate freedom fighter.)

A. Soviet Marshal Georgi Zhukov

B. Al-Qaeda founder Osama Ben Laden

C. KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky

D. None of the above

If you answered “D” to both questions, go to the head of the class. The correct answer to both was George Washington.

“The roots of U.S. vaccine mandates predate both the U.S. and vaccines,” Maggie Astor recently wrote in The New York Times. “… In January 1777, George Washington mandated inoculations for the soldiers under his command in the Continental Army, writing that if smallpox were to break out, ‘we should have more to dread from it, than from the Sword of the Enemy.’ Notably, it was in large part the soldiers’ desires that overcame his resistance to a mandate.”

She quoted Central Michigan University historian Andrew Wehrman, an authority on the politics of medicine in early America: “There’s no record that I have seen — and I’ve looked — of any soldier turning it down, protesting it.”

Added Astor: “Buoyed by the success of the mandate, Washington wrote to his brother in June 1777 that he was upset by a Virginia law restricting inoculations. ‘I would rather move for a Law to compell the Masters of Families to inoculate every Child born within a certain limitted time under severe Penalties,’ he wrote.”

In the 1960s, Kentucky's Cooper, a moderate, fought to help keep the Birchers out of the Republican party. The Birchers hung around and, like Covidiots, they're mainstream in today's Trump GOP. (Some websites define a "Covidiot" as “a person who acts like an irresponsible idiot during the COVID-19 pandemic, ignoring common sense, decency, science, and professional advice leading to the further spread of the virus and needless deaths of thousands.”)

Birchers and Covidiots are prime examples of what historian Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics."

In their heyday, the Birchers blathered that the country was overrun with home grown Reds secretly conspiring with Moscow to deliver America to the Soviets. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was “a dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” according to the society.

The wackiest Covidiots say COVID shots will make you magnetic and/or will shoot a microchip into your body so that the Democratic “Deep State” — including President Joe Biden and presumably Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear — can spy on you.

Today, vaccination requirements are routine for members of the armed forces. School kids in all 50 states must be vaccinated against a variety of diseases, Astor pointed out.

Even so, a slew of Republican politicians — some in the Kentucky legislature — and right-wing pundits rant that vaccine mandates are un-American and unprecedented. “In reality, they are a time-honored American tradition,” Astor wrote. “But to be fair, so is public fury over them.”

Murray State University historian Brian Clardy remembers getting vaccinated as a kid growing up in South Fulton, Tenn. “The idea that we’ve never had mandatory vaccinations is pure fiction,” he said, echoing Astor.

He says it’s ironic, but not surprising, that the most ardent anti-vaxxers are the most faithful Trump cultists. “Weren’t these vaccines developed under ‘Operation Warp Speed’ when he was president? Aren’t Trump and his whole family vaccinated?”

"You would think that President Trump would be eager to remind [Americans] that the vaccines were developed on his watch then with the support of Operation Warp speed," radio host Michael Smerconish said on a recent broadcast. "But relative to how much time he spends complaining about the 2020 results he hardly ever mentions it, and when he does it's usually to complain about not getting enough credit."

Smerconish noted that Trump recently sent out a tweetmail bragging on his administration for doing a "great job" against the pandemic. "But he refuses to take the next logical step, which would be to encourage his followers to protect themselves. I think he doesn't want to risk alienating the vaccine hesitant who support him by encouraging them to get a jab. Meanwhile, the unvaccinated needlessly suffer the most severe consequences of the virus."

Clardy said politicians who pander to anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers “are playing a dangerous game with our lives in the commonwealth and around the country. More hospitals are filling up with COVID patients, more ICUs are running out of space, more people are getting intubated, and more people are dying.”

Added Clardy: “It’s like to them the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, and the Scientific Revolution never happened.”

While masking and vaccination mandates triggered a right-wing backlash, Clardy wonders if a counter-backlash is quietly building among Americans who trust science and understand that the deadliest pandemic in a decade won’t abate until significantly larger numbers of people get vaccinated and mask up when appropriate.

Maybe feeling some heat from voters, some GOP governors and other party bigwigs are changing their tune and calling on people to get vaccinated. "After nearly a year and a half of telling their constituents that it’s their constitutional right to ignore coronavirus guidelines and public health restrictions, it seems to be dawning on leaders in the Republican Party that letting a deadly and very infectious disease run rampant through their states and localities — not to mention the rest of the country — is actually a terrible idea," wrote Nathalie Baptiste in a Mother Jones story headlined "The Obscene Hypocrisy of Republicans Blaming Everyone But Themselves: The COVID Edition."

An overwhelming majority of Americans are sick of being held hostage by an ignorant, belligerent, anti-science minority. And that loudmouth minority are about to find out what the majority really thinks of them.

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Suggested Joan Walsh in The Nation: "You can ascribe the new GOP approach—'vaccines good, mandates and masks still bad'— to their purported love of freedom (for themselves, mostly), or their attempt to keep the support of their base, which is literally dying because Republicans politicized the fight against Covid from the beginning. It may also be that they realize that vaccinated folks are getting fed up, Josh Marshall notes — and the majority of vaccinated folks are in their 40s through their 60s, in red states and blue, and are by far the most likely to vote."

Writing in Daily Kos, Bob Johnson warned: "An overwhelming majority of Americans are sick of being held hostage by an ignorant, belligerent, anti-science minority. And that loudmouth minority — the people screaming, unmasked, at school board meetings and threatening school board members, school administrators and teachers, the jerks refusing to wear masks where masks are required, the morons who think not getting vaccinated is 'owning the libs' — are about to find out what the majority really thinks of them."

Nearly 60 percent of Americans favor mask and vaccine requirements for K-12 students and their teachers, says a new poll from the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Clardy said he personally knows Republicans who have been vaccinated and are masking. “A lot of them don’t like what they are seeing in their party. But they’re afraid to say it out loud because of the backlash. But eventually they are going to pipe up and shut this carnival down.”

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Commentary

Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)


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