Up to now I’ve thought Michele Bachman was the most impressive performer in the GOP field, going toe-to-toe with the “big boys” in the field, out-arguing them on several occasions, and introducing serious constitutional arguments that the rest of the field (even Perry) are too timid to attempt. She’s right to go after Rick Perry on the issue of mandating the use of the Gardisil vaccine, along with the issue of “crony capitalism,” both of which get at the issue of a potential president’s sense of the reach and limits of state power. Perry is a mixed bag on this (as is Romney obviously) and he should be pressed hard to explain himself and refine his views.
But her embrace of the wacko idea that the vaccine is dangerous or causes autism, mental retardation, or other risks is simply irresponsible. Is Bachman, Glenn Reynolds quipped, trying to go after the Jenny McCarthy vote? Meanwhile, Jim Geraghty over at National Review‘s Morning Jolt says Bachmann has embraced McCarthyism–Jenny McCarthyism. Hyuck-yuck. (Glenn also links to Jonathan Adler’s quick take on this, which is the same as mine.)
Bachman passed along with complete credulity the claim of someone who she says came up to her after the debate attributing her child’s mental issues to the vaccine. I’ve heard a few people speculate darkly about whether such a person actually exists, or whether Bachman made it up or is trimming a bit from something she was told another time. You’d think our inquisitive news media would find this person and investigate, or that the person would now step forward (or that other people with similar claims would now step forward). Above all, this is a political mistake as well as a scientific one, as it has shifted the focus from Perry’s use of power to Bachmann’s scientific credibility—a lose-lose for everyone.
Which raises the last point. NBC Nightly News last night went to some trouble to attack Bachman’s views on the Gardisil vaccine. Fine; but why doesn’t NBC or the other major media perform the same service when anti-vaccine quackery comes from Robert F. Kennedy Jr. or Jenny McCarthy? No mystery here.