I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.
Today’s read: 11 minutes.
Today, we’re covering vaccine hesitancy and I’m answering a question about Texas Democrats fleeing the state.
Thank you all for the well-wishes during my honeymoon and for sticking with us despite a week off. We’re back, we’re rested, and we’re ready to rock this week on a number of important issues playing out across the country right now.
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- U.S. allies have accused China of hacking Microsoft and condoning other cyber attacks. (Reuters)
- A global investigation found that military-grade spyware leased by an Israeli group has been used to hack smartphones of journalists, human rights activists, politicians and business executives. (The Washington Post)
- Five of the runaway Democrats from the Texas House have tested positive for coronavirus. (Texas Tribune)
- Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order restricting the use of conversion therapy in the state. (Axios)
- Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) said plans to boost IRS funding and enforcement as a way to pay for Biden’s infrastructure plan are now off the table. (Politico)
What D.C. is talking about.
Vaccine hesitancy. In the last few weeks, coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths have ticked back up in the United States. Serious cases are occurring almost exclusively among the unvaccinated, and the Centers for Disease Control says a more transmissible variant of coronavirus — called Delta — is largely responsible for the rapidly increasing spread.
The U.S. is now averaging about 26,000 new cases a day, which is a 70 percent increase from last week. 211 people are dying a day, which is about a 26 percent increase. Meanwhile, around two-thirds of eligible Americans have gotten at least a single dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and about 57 percent are fully vaccinated, but the rate of vaccinations has slowed significantly. The CDC says 97 percent of all people hospitalized with severe Covid-19 infections are unvaccinated, and hospitals have said the vast majority of their Covid-19 patients are now unvaccinated.
The Biden administration missed its goal of getting at least one vaccine dose to 70 percent of all American adults by July 4. Biden responded by suggesting the administration was going to spend more money on public education campaigns, and even organize door-to-door vaccination pushes. In some places, though, vaccine hesitancy has turned into vaccine hostility. At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), some attendees celebrated the fact that Biden had missed his goal.
In a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 29 percent of Americans said they were unlikely to get vaccinated. 20 percent said they definitely would not. The numbers are an increase from three months ago. Vaccine hesitancy appears highest among political conservatives, rural Americans, Black Americans and Hispanic Americans.
Pundits on the right and left have responded to this phenomenon. Below, we’ll take a look at some of their arguments, then my take.
What the left is saying.
The left has mostly put the blame on Republicans and argued that Biden needs to re-evaluate his strategy to get to herd immunity.
In The Atlantic, Peter Nicholas said Biden was using a “spaghetti-at-the-wall” strategy.
“Biden’s vaccination drive has the feel of a political campaign that’s targeting the persuadable middle, when what’s really needed is a novel way to reach the proudly irrational,” Nicholas said. “He’s using many of the same tools he employed in 2020: celebrity endorsements and door-to-door contacts, TV ads and the bully pulpit. Fewer and fewer unvaccinated Americans are heeding the message. Compared with an average of more than 3.3 million doses a day in April, only about half a million people are now getting vaccinated on a given day. Nearly one-third of the adult population hasn’t gotten a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at a time when the far more infectious Delta variant is sweeping the nation. There’s no assurance that more of the same will produce a better result.
“Reasons vary as to why the holdouts are unmoved,” he wrote. “Polling shows that Black and Hispanic adults, for example, are more likely than white adults to forgo the vaccine due to fear of missing work. A disproportionate share of Republicans, white evangelical Christians, and rural residents—the durable core of Donald Trump’s base—say they won’t ever get vaccinated, according to surveys taken by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Nearly half of Republican adults who haven’t been vaccinated cite distrust of government as a major reason. (Only a quarter of unvaccinated Democrats mention that as a rationale for refusing a vaccine.) Trump supporters are not listening to Biden, and they don’t care what he says—but the president can’t simply ignore them.”
In a CNN op-ed, Tina Sacks told the story of her young son nearly dying after a suspected coronavirus case.
“Children under 12, including my son, cannot protect themselves from the coronavirus,” she wrote. “They cannot get the Covid-19 vaccines, which are still undergoing clinical trials for young children. They cannot appropriately weigh the risks against the benefits. But as adults, we have the individual and collective responsibility to do whatever we can to mitigate their risks… Vaccination rates vary around the country and in most states, Black and Hispanic people have received smaller shares of vaccinations compared with their shares of Covid-19 cases, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report last week.
“I have written about the concerns that Black and Indigenous people, along with other people of color (BIPOC) have over vaccines, and how they must be taken seriously,” she added. “This mistrust is not unfounded; both my academic training and personal experience tell me that BIPOC do not fare well in predominately White health care institutions… It doesn't help that many Republicans have been stoking vaccine skepticism and outright hostility… Many who choose to forgo the shot may claim they are making a personal decision. But the continued spread of Covid-19 affects us all. If anything, remaining unvaccinated by choice -- and not because of lack of access or contraindicated health conditions -- sounds more to me like shirking an individual responsibility than exercising an individual right.”
In The Washington Post, James Downie said Republicans have “decided it’s acceptable” that we are backsliding on Covid-19.
“In this vacuum of silence, right-wing voices such as Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham have spread lie after lie about vaccination efforts,” Downie wrote. “And Republican governors such as Kristi L. Noem (S.D.), Ron DeSantis (Fla.) and Mike Parson (Mo.) have encouraged ‘personal responsibility’ or sown fears about government efforts to vaccinate more Americans. Never mind that those governors got their shots months ago. Never mind that, according to some estimates, nearly half of South Dakotans have been infected, or that Florida’s daily case average has quadrupled in the past month. The residents of their states will have to bear the risks, for the good of the governors’ poll numbers.”
What the right is saying.
The right is divided, with some arguing that there are good reasons to be vaccine-hesitant while others say Democrats share the blame for getting us into this pickle.
The conservative writer Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote about what it will take to convince the skeptics.
“Proponents of the vaccine are unwilling or unable to understand the thinking of vaccine skeptics — or even admit that skeptics may be thinking at all,” Dougherty said. “Their attempts to answer skepticism or understand it end up poisoned by condescension, and end up reinforcing it… a study done at MIT showed that a substantial portion of public-health skepticism was highly informed, scientifically literate, and sophisticated in the use of data. Skeptics used the same data sets as those with the orthodox views on public health.
“Getting skeptics on board will require abandoning efforts that seem like open manipulation in defiance of the evidence,” he said. “It will also mean leveling with people. An ad might acknowledge that indeed there aren’t long-term studies and cannot be any when we are responding to a sudden pandemic, but it could offer medical reasoning to trust that long-term health complications due to these vaccines are unlikely, given how few short-term complications there have been. A public-health campaign would give context to the information about vaccine reactions reported on the government’s own websites — such as the VAERs system — and explain how the government assesses them. In the absence of this, skeptics will take the word of whoever is willing to give this information context.”
The Wall Street Journal editorial board said “experts have been guilty of overplaying the risk of new variants to justify lockdowns,” but the Delta variant “deserves special caution.”
“Well-respected Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis could help by speaking up about the benefits of vaccination,” the board said. “It should bolster public confidence that government health bodies in the U.S. and other countries have analyzed rare adverse side effects. These include myocarditis in young adults from the Pfizer vaccine, and Guillain-Barré syndrome from the J&J vaccine. Their conclusion is that the benefits outweigh the potential risks even in sub-populations.
“One question is how much coercion to apply to the vaccine hesitant,” they added. “In a free society, this should be as little as possible. Rather than mandate vaccines, employers perhaps could require the unvaccinated to get tested regularly. The NFL has required daily testing, social distancing and masks for unvaccinated players and banned them from sauna and steam rooms. GOP politicians are oddly now talking like libertarians on mandates while espousing state power to block private actors from enforcing their own standards for ensuring a safe workplace and reassuring employees… It won’t help the GOP politically to sound like anti-vaxxers, especially with the suburban women they will need next year to take back Congress. You can oppose state coercion but still favor the life-saving benefits of mass Covid vaccination.”
In PJ Media, Rick Moran said vaccine skepticism is the fault of anti-Trump Democrats.
“Democrats are blaming Republicans, Fox News, and the anti-vaccine movement for ‘vaccine hesitancy,’” Moran wrote. “What makes this criticism ring hollow is that it was Democrats who were the original anti-vaxxers. In their eagerness to defeat Donald Trump last fall, Democrats ginned up hysterical opposition to vaccines that were close to being approved for emergency use by the FDA… There are many reasons for vaccine hesitancy, not the least of which is the risk/benefit analysis that most people do individually. Some people strongly feel they don’t need the vaccine or believe the risks of being inoculated outweigh the risk of getting seriously ill from the coronavirus. But a sizable portion of the unvaccinated were almost certainly influenced by Democratic Party leaders who questioned the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.”
In order to make my position cohesive, I suppose it’s important to start with a basic premise: I believe the more Americans who are vaccinated for Covid-19, the better. While the mRNA technology used in many of the most effective vaccines is “new,” it has also been studied and developed for decades. And while it’s true there are no long-term studies (by virtue of this coronavirus being novel), it’s also true that the odds of a vaccine having deleterious long-term effects when showing so few short-term issues is incredibly small. That’s why so many experts on vaccines are also prominent proponents of getting inoculated.
On top of that, the vaccines seem to be damn near miraculous. They’re incredibly effective not just at eliminating death, but also serious illness and potential long-haul symptoms. And most encouragingly, their effectiveness seems to be working against the new variants (even if they’re not preventing infection at such high rates, the prevention of serious illness is similar).
All that being said, I found Michael Brendan Dougherty’s piece one of the most cogent, and was shocked to return from my honeymoon and see that it had caused so much outrage. He says what seems obvious to me: a lot of people who are not taking the vaccine are rational, smart, and considerate folks with perfectly logical reasons for sitting it out.
Some are just worried about something new, which is basic human nature. Some have underlying health conditions. Some are trying to get pregnant. Some are pregnant. Some had Covid-19 already and trust in their “natural” immune response. Some are young and healthy and too busy living, with the youthful belief they’re immortal, to clear a day of hanging with friends to go get vaccinated. Would I have rushed to a nearby clinic at 22 to get a vaccine? I’d love to say “of course” but I honestly don’t know.
Of course, plenty are political reactionaries too. Some are lifelong anti-vaxxers (especially on the left) who are simply never going to be convinced. Creepy animated advertisements about how effective the vaccines are won’t move the needle for any of the above.
If I were President Biden or his team, I’d be hounding former President Trump and his allies to celebrate the vaccines. I’d be thanking the former president for his administration’s role in the miracle of the vaccine development, and emphasizing that Trump was one of the first people to get the vaccine, despite having already contracted Covid-19. Same goes for the Republican governors who have all helped encourage fears about the vaccine while getting fully inoculated; and same goes for Tucker Carlson, who I’d bet the house has been vaccinated, despite spreading fear about the vaccines every night on his show.
Which is another thing: people making their best attempt at informed, cautious, safe decisions should not be derided. But community leaders who are failing to encourage vaccination should. Faith leaders, Fox News hosts, politicians — all of them have access to the ears of the most vaccine-hesitant communities, whether it’s churchgoing Black folks or die-hard white Trump supporters in rural areas. And they should be using it. Vice President Kamala Harris was wrong when she sowed distrust about vaccines before they even got FDA approval, and the cohort of Republicans embracing similar skepticism now — after more than a year of studies and successful real-world application — are even more cynical.
That President Trump hasn’t come out strongly to push his supporters to get vaccinated is also an embarrassment, however unsurprising. The moment vaccines became less of a political winner he abandoned them, despite the fact they’re a crowning achievement of his administration and could save many of his supporters’ lives.
If Biden wants to move the ball, he should embrace Dougherty’s line of thought: speak openly about the shortcomings of the vaccines and why those shortcomings don’t outweigh the benefits. Stop assuming any vaccine-hesitant person is some deranged conspiracy theorist. And, especially when dealing with political opponents, continue to invoke Trump and his Republican allies — all of whom are vaccinated and celebrated the vaccines’ effectiveness just a few short months ago — to remind folks what a gift they truly are.
Your questions, answered
Q: When lawmakers break quorum, is it actually productive? I saw that the Texas Democrats left Texas to block Republican voting legislature again, but aren't they stopping other important issues from being heard as well? Additionally, I read one quote that said that they didn't want the "Republican-led" legislature to push the voting policy through, but shouldn't the laws that go through reflect the beliefs and preferences of the population, which are, hopefully, reflected through our elected officials? Basically, why are lawmakers allowed to break quorum, and who does this actually help?
— Anonymous, Houston, Texas
Tangle: I think it depends how you define “productive.” It’s almost never productive, but I think that’s the point — to be “anti-productive.” In the case of the Texas Democrats, I think their plan went about as poorly as you could possibly imagine. Their $1.5 million getaway included photos of themselves maskless on a plane with cases of Miller Lite, followed promptly by five positive Covid-19 test results.
As I’ve written, I think the laws Republicans in Texas are trying to pass will do nothing to address election fraud while very likely giving themselves advantages in elections. Given how cynical the legislation is I think Democrats could make a good case they’re fighting fire with fire, but it’s still impossible for me to get on board. You can’t just flee the legislature, and if you’re going to you certainly shouldn't do it the way they did.
And yes, it does mean that they won’t just be stopping the election laws — but all legislation. Without a quorum, the legislature can’t do anything. And last week, Republicans responded by voting to track down lawmakers and trying to arrest them, though without any jurisdiction in Washington D.C. I don’t see that plan playing out well, either.
Ultimately, I have no idea what the endgame is. Texas Democrats can delay for some time, perhaps long enough for a federal bill to get pushed through, but that seems very unlikely. More plausible, to me, is that they’ll have to return in a few weeks and eventually endure another special session where the legislation will pass anyway. Perhaps, politically, they’ll have made their point and drawn attention to the new laws, but in this case I don’t think they will actually succeed in stopping the legislation from being voted on.
A story that matters
One worker at a Frito-Lay factory is causing a national uproar after Vice Magazine published a column about conditions where he works. Mark McCarter is one of several hundred workers in the middle of a nine-day strike, and the oppressive conditions in the factory have gone viral on social media. Many of the 850 workers say they work 84 hours a week in the non-air conditioned facility with no days off. “I can tell you that many people have had heart attacks in the heat at Frito-Lay since I've been here,” McCarter told Vice. “One guy died a few years ago and the company had people pick him up, move him over to the side, and put another person in his spot without shutting the business down for two seconds.” (Vice Magazine)
- 1 in 5. The number of American adults who believe the U.S. government is using the vaccine to insert microchips in the population, according to a YouGov poll.
- 1 in 10. My best guess on the number of Americans who would say the above just to troll a pollster, for whatever it’s worth.
- 40%. The percentage of U.S. adults who say the threat of the coronavirus was definitely or probably exaggerated for political reasons.
- 10%. The percentage of vaccine hesitant and unvaccinated Americans who say a doctor’s recommendation would make a difference in their decision.
- 53%. Among adults who won’t get vaccinated or are undecided, the percentage who said one of their top reasons is the side effects.
- 62%. The percentage of Americans who say they are concerned about the Delta variant.
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Have a nice day.
A police officer in Island Heights, New Jersey, had to break a woman’s driver’s side window in order to rescue her son, who was accidentally locked inside on a hot summer day. Officer Rocco Mellot first called an ambulance and a tow truck to get the door unlocked and tend to the child, but he and the mother decided he had to act quickly when the child began to show signs of overheating. When the grateful mom told Mellot she wasn’t sure she could scrape together the money to pay for the broken window, Mellot successfully rallied the local police and first aid squads for donations to pay for the replacement. (NJ.com)