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Former Rolling Stone Writer Zeroes In on the Root Cause for COVID Vaccine Hesitancy

AP Photo/Marta Lavandier

They’re not getting vaccinated. They’re idiots. They’re selfish. They’re the reason why Delta is spreading like a brushfire. It’s a variant that isn’t more deadly and it won’t make you sicker, but it caused the CDC to declare that everyone, even the vaccinated, must wear masks in hot spot areas. There are still swaths of people who are on the fence about getting the vaccine. Yes, some of it is due to misinformation. The vaccine works. It’s safe, but it’s also your choice. We know the Biden administration wants to go door-to-door and jab people. They can’t propose that due to the political fallout ahead of a key midterm election. They’re itching to go through with it, however. And now the political class seems content about forced vaccinations. Both Republican and Democratic talking heads are starting to form an unholy alliance of bipartisanship that usually leads to the erosion of civil rights. We’re seeing that with COVID vaccines. The reason behind it is that a great many Americans get assistance from our welfare state. Therefore, those who write the checks should be given a bigger mandate on how they can dictate how other Americans live. It’s paternalistic. It’s anti-American. It oozes the moral superiority complex that manifests itself so viciously with liberal Americans.


Matt Taibbi is not a conservative. We’ve noted this, but he’s also fair. He also sees the root cause of this debate, which indeed is grounded in the Trump moment. He’s vaccinated, but also sees the bashing of the unvaccinated as emblematic of the “abhorrent” and “nonsensical” nature of our politics today. How did we get here? Well, he traces it back to the Clinton era and the work for welfare reforms which I support, but he described as paternalistic and racist. I think there is a difference between forced injections of something that people might have questions about given the medical expert class being unable to dole out solid, fact-based information about the virus, the mask fiasco is a prime example, and ensuring that the programs aimed to assist those who are in a state of economic vulnerability are not abusing them. Back to COVID, Taibbi noted he’s no angel in this past dichotomy of the liberal American snickering at the uneducated and conservative America bashing the “irresponsible poor.” The shot across the bow from Blue America is what former Bush speechwriter David Frum said about this current vaccine debate which Taibbi cited:

Does Biden’s America have a breaking point? Biden’s America produces 70 percent of the country’s wealth — and then sees that wealth transferred to support Trump’s America. Which is fine; that’s what citizens of one nation do for one another… [But] the reciprocal part of the bargain is not being upheld…

Will Blue America ever decide it’s had enough of being put medically at risk by people and places whose bills it pays? Check yourself. Have you?

Taibbi lists how third-way Democratic politics, which is one I can tolerate, was like hell on wheels making sure the working poor weren’t defrauding welfare programs or other like-minded assistance offered at the state-level, but then he comes to the Trump moment and where the dynamics of this debate and the opposing actors changed sides that brings us to this vaccinated versus unvaccinated battlefield. Oh, and bashing the latter is a fantastic way, guaranteed frankly, in ensuring that we don’t increase those rates (via Matt Taibbi):


I’m vaccinated. I think people should be vaccinated. But this latest moral mania — and make no mistake about it, the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” PR campaign is the latest in a ceaseless series of such manias, dating back to late 2016 — lays bare everything that’s abhorrent and nonsensical in modern American politics, beginning with the no-longer-disguised aristocratic mien of the Washington consensus. If you want to convince people to get a vaccine, pretty much the worst way to go about it is a massive blame campaign, delivered by sneering bluenoses who have a richly deserved credibility problem with large chunks of the population, and now insist they’re owed financially besides.

There’s always been a contingent in American society that believes people who pay more taxes should get more say, or “more votes,” as Joseph Heller’s hilarious Texan put it. It’s a conceit that cut across party. You hear it from the bank CEO who thinks America should thank him for the pleasure of kissing his ass with a bailout, but just as quickly from the suburban wine Mom who can’t believe the ingratitude of the nanny who asks for a day off. Doesn’t she know who’s paying the bills? The delusion can run so deep that people like Margaret Hoover can talk themselves into the idea that Social Security — money taxpayers lend the government, not the other way around — is actually a gift from the check-writing class.


In the pre-Trump years, there was by tradition a split in public messaging. I’m embarrassed to say I was part of this phenomenon, but it was real: blue-friendly pundits like me snickered at the uneducated, while the National Review crowd sneered at the irresponsible poor.

Then Trump came along, and the media and political landscapes were re-ordered. Now there was no philosophical or political split among America’s wealthiest and most educated people. Both strains of snobbism — one looking down on the unschooled, the other looking down on an economically parasitic underclass — fused, putting wealthy America’s pretensions under the same tent for the first time.

The 2016 election brought forth this weird paradox. On one hand it was abundantly clear that Trump was playing class politics. His schtick was aimed at “elites,” and the response to him was couched as an openly upper-class defense of “excellence” and “expertise,” and against “populism.” As Thomas Frank wrote in his terrific The People, No, Trump was portrayed as an ignoramus revolting against his betters…


Statistic after statistic was cited proving Trump was not a “working class” phenomenon, that while the median Trump voter earned less than the Kasich voter, that person also earned more than either the Clinton or Sanders voter.

Maybe that’s the case. But there were other, more telling numbers. The Brookings Institute noted that Hillary Clinton won 472 counties in 2016, which accounted for 64% of the country’s GDP. Trump meanwhile won 2,584 counties, many in flyover territory, which collectively produced 36% of national wealth.

As noted here before, by 2018, it was also true that 41 of the 50 wealthiest congressional districts voted Democratic, with states like California, Virginia, New York, Maryland, and New Jersey dominating. Furthermore, those Brookings stats became an active talking point — for Democrats, who now began to stress the affluence of their voters as an indication of their moral superiority. “I won the places that represent two-thirds of America's gross domestic product,” Hillary Clinton crowed, on a trip to India. “So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward.”

Democrats for the first time in a long time not only outperformed Republicans in affluent white communities, but essentially owned those territories. Even Mitt Romney outperformed Barack Obama by about 20 points in predominantly white areas, but Hillary Clinton crushed Trump in those places. In districts where the median income was $250,000 or more, she won by 27 points, a 39% increase over Obama’s performance. As the New York Times noted, “It appears that Mrs. Clinton succeeded at winning over many rich and well-educated Republicans.”

By 2020, the divide was greater, as Frum himself noted. Joe Biden’s 509 counties accounted for 71% of the nation’s wealth, while Trump’s 2,547 counties accounted for 29%. In practical terms, what this meant is that education and income, which track pretty closely with each other, became primary determinants in national politics.

This is why it’s no longer surprising to see people like Frum — an incomparable villain in liberal circles even ten years ago — cheerfully identifying himself as part of the “Blue America” that’s “had enough.”


Taibbi added, “The former group, the people who say they’re paying the bills, have spent years now trying to let the rabble know there’s a limit to both their patience and their generosity. They’ve made it clear there are limits to how much speech freedom they’ll confer, how much political choice or right to assembly will be permitted, how much ignorance will be allowed to fester.”

So, you see the core of why the political class is coalescing around the consensus of vaccine mandates. Taibbi then rips into them, noting that Kamala Harris and Joe Biden were vaccine skeptics initially due to it coming from a Trump initiative, Operation War Speed. He aptly noted how PolitiFact is merely an outfit aimed at blunting bad press for the Biden administration. People who brought this up were fact-checked as peddling a “false” statement. 

“Now that Biden and Harris are in office, aristocratic America is exerting its institutional influence to sterilize their history,” wrote Taibbi. 

He also fired headshots against other fake narratives, like how Trump was a vaccine resister despite being the president who commissioned the effort to create a vaccine and went on national television twice to discuss it and promote it. The worst was probably the GOP is the real anti-vaxxers, which Taibbi noted only chips away more at the action item of increasing vaccinations:

This is the same political story that’s dominated America since Trump arrived. Why did Americans vote for such a truth-challenged candidate? Because they trusted the political aristocracy less. How did the aristocrats respond to that damning message sent at the ballot box? They doubled the lies and doubled the scolding, increasing the mistrust. Is anyone going to bother trying to break this cycle?


Another liberal reporter Michael Tracey also noted how a) bashing the unvaccinated is ridiculous, and b) expertly shredded the ‘GOP is anti-vaxx’ narrative by merely rehashing old tweets showing that Donald Trump, Kristi Noem, Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Kevin McCarthy, Tom Cotton, and Josh Hawley all receiving the vaccine and urging Americans to get the shot. 

Reaching out to the unvaccinated, hearing their concerns, and addressing any issues is how this should go. It’s not hard. It’s basic outreach that Democrats eschew due to their insufferable self-righteousness or outright laziness in speaking to those who…aren’t snobs like them. When Dr. Anthony Fauci cannot get masks right, it's fine to have questions about the vaccine. This is their monster, folks. 

There is a limit in telling what grown adults can do. Period. And a bunch of rabid white college-educated liberals who don’t venture outside of cities bashing those they view as sub-human isn’t going to yield a successful messaging strategy on anything, let alone the COVID vaccine. 

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