Is the anti-vaccine movement looking to Sarah Palin’s Tea Party Nation for inspiration? It seems that way, given that Generation Rescue is calling its May 26 rally in Chicago’s Grant Park “An American Rally for Personal Rights”. In just two years, the movement has gone from Green Our Vaccines to “What Would Thomas Jefferson Do?”
It will be two years next month since McCarthy led her angry mob of 2,500 parents and children through Washington D.C., under the focus-group tested “Green Our Vaccines” banner. The slogan played on parental anxiety over their children’s diets, the quality of the natural environment, and all the unknowns that come with modernity. A Green Vaccine was supposedly a safe vaccine, something you might find in Whole Foods, wrapped in hemp fiber and chilling next to the organic arugula.
But Green Vaccines have a short shelf life. Mean scientists attacked her for alleging, among other things, that vaccines contain anti-freeze and ether. They don’t, and never have. Layer by layer her arguments peeled away, revealing a silly marketing slogan unrelated to the physical world. That is as it should be, since the question of vaccine safety is best left to science, and the science was never on McCarthy’s side to begin with.
So the angry mob that will converge on Grant Park in two weeks is switching to plan B – it’s about the constitution, stupid. Welcome to T-Cell Party Nation. The tree of libery must be watered with the chelated blood of children. All that’s missing are the tri-corner hats and sidearms.
Of course I may be giving McCarthy too much credit. Vaccine rejectionism is a big tent movement, encompassing a diverse range of human wiring and predilections. Consistency has never been a problem, despite McCarthy’s efforts to create a brand.
“I think they just throw everything they’ve got and see where any of it sticks,” says Arthur Allen, author of Vaccines, a must-read history of vaccine rejectionism.
Anti-vaccine conclaves, says Allen, “have always been a mishmash of libertarians, health nuts and quack medicine vendors, conspiracy theorists, ambulance chasers, ‘investigative’ journalists, advocates of the theory of harm du jour, and, always, a few scientists – who range from the disbarred quack to the clueless semi-mainstream specialist.” In other words, the same angry mob that puzzled our great-grandparents at the turn of the last century. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
These are dark days for McCarthy. Andrew Wakefield, the movement’s eminence gris, has been found guilty of ethical misconduct and may be stripped of his medical license next month. The nation’s major news and entertainment media, including the Chicago Tribune, WBCH’s Frontline, and even Showtime’s Penn and Teller are wise to the danger posed by vaccine rejectionism. What started as an emotional argument ten years ago by a minority of poorly-informed parents has curdled into a national punchline.
Cheap populism and worn patriotic slogans will not turn McCarthy’s PR disaster around. To rescue her foundering movement, she will have to admit she has a problem, submit to reality, and make amends to the medical community she has slandered for too long.
McCarthy has no business recovering children if she can’t first recover herself.