Texas Gov. Rick Perry is getting hammered because he signed an order requiring that sixth-graders be vaccinated against the HPV virus in 2007. Perhaps the most toxic mix in GOP presidential politics is the combination of sex, power and mandates.
All three elements play a role in this controversy.
HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "HPV is so common that at least 50 percent of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives." Most people who have it don't know they have it, and their immune systems clear HPV naturally. For some, sadly, HPV can cause cervical cancer and other forms of cancer.
If HPV were not sexually transmitted, no doubt most Americans would support a vaccine to eradicate a scary health threat. But it is sexual. Experts suggest that doctors administer the vaccine before children become sexually active.
I have sympathy with parents who don't trust the school system, are sick of being told how to raise their children and want to shield their kids from hyper-sexualized messages.
But, frankly, parents ought to be more worried about the health of their kids when they grow up. ?In last week's GOP presidential debate, Rep. Michele Bachmann played to parents' fears when she accused Perry of signing an order "to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection." The image is almost pornographic.
Bachmann compounded her mistake when she told NBC's "Today'' show that she had met an unnamed mother who told her that after her daughter was vaccinated, she suffered from "mental retardation."
For Bachmann, that was enough proof to smear an opponent -- and a vaccine.
At the debate, Perry responded that his goal was "to stop a cancer"; said that parents were, of course, free to opt out; and said, "I will tell you that I made a mistake by not going to the Legislature first."
On that score, Perry was far too kind to himself. In mandating the vaccine in an executive order, Perry doomed any chance of success. His former chief of staff was a lobbyist for Merck, the manufacturer of the Gardasil vaccine. According to Texans for Public Justice, Merck gave Perry's campaign $28,500 -- not the $5,000 he claimed -- from January 2006 until June 2011, as well as $377,500 to the Republican Governors Association, which he chaired.