Sometimes a thing can be two things at once, one good and one bad. That requires a choice. And in a free society, that choice is usually best made by the individual directly affected. If not, then by an open, democratic process. Yet that is not what’s happening with Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate and it’s why the cure is worse than the disease.
I am, by my choice, thrice vaccinated. I understand the COVID vaccine prevents me from getting sick, and it is only a day-by-day smaller population of unvaccinated people who are actually still at risk of dying. We each make a choice. Now the government wants to make that choice for us.
Vax mandates are an unhealthy thing for our democracy and represent a willful effort by government to exert additional control over an already cowed population. There is a direct line between the PATRIOT Act, mass surveillance, and vax mandates that claims “it is all for our own good” when it is more broadly for our own bad. This is about politics, not medicine.
Whatever you call a country where a central authority makes unilateral decisions to control its people’s lives, that is what America has become. In escalation towards that dark reality, the Biden administration announced a mandate requiring employers with 100 or more workers to ensure employees are vaccinated for COVID or tested weekly. A separate mandate requires employers participating in Medicare or Medicaid to have a fully vaccinated workforce, with no testing alternative.
The first rule alone covers 84 million US workers, or two thirds of the workforce (for now; the government is already working on expanding the program, though a federal court has temporarily blocked its implementation). People who do not comply will lose their jobs. Workers who test positive will be removed.
It is critical to understand that these mandates have been imposed; there was no legislation, no vote, no robust debate, no public record of who supports and who opposes them. It all raises the question: if the threat is so obvious, why has the cure needed to be so coercive and sneaky? The Biden administration disingenuously enforced the mandate as a faux emergency rule through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a sub-office inside the Department of Labor created to ensure workplace safety, not deprive people of a living.
The mandate places an unvaccinated worker (not a diseased worker, mind you, but a healthy worker without a vaccination) in the same category as frayed electrical cords and wet floors, a workplace hazard. OSHA, under threats of penalty, outsources enforcement (i.e., firing the worker) to the conscripted employer. Fines are up to $136,532. It will be interesting to see what happens if an employer, for his own reasons, accepts religious exemptions for 100 percent of his workforce.
Left undiscussed is what will be accomplished by firing truckers (“will decimate industry, worsen supply chain woes”), or how workloads in schools and hospitals will be lessened by sacking teachers and nurses, as well as the effect of canning cops, pilots, and firefighters. There is no evidence of any calculus by Biden of risk versus gain, just one of power.
The Biden administration is also requiring Americans abroad seeking to return to the US to either be vaccinated or test negative, the first time in history something other than citizenship has been made a criteria for a citizen’s reentry. The decision to allow an American citizen to return to his own country, a right seen as guaranteed by the Constitution, has been outsourced to an airline employee at a foreign airport in contrivance of any due process.
That last bit is new. Even during the Ebola outbreak, screening was done by American government officials at American airports. Not anymore. By outsourcing enforcement to a clerk in Paris, as with outsourcing censorship to Twitter, Biden disposes of constitutional protections.
All of this has been justified as a legitimate response to an emergency, albeit an “emergency” now heading into its second year and one which has been essentially put to rest in many other democracies at much lower social costs. The problem is that what may seem like a reasonable step in today’s emergency will have a nasty hangover effect when invoked as precedent under less dire circumstances.
Power seized by governments is rarely relinquished. That’s why you are still taking your shoes off at the airport. It is why after “two weeks to flatten the curve” we are talking now about the government controlling who can work and travel.
The government’s history of liberties taken with liberty is poor. Think back to the powers taken by post-9/11 presidents. The result is the ongoing mass surveillance of Americans in America (violating the 4A), a global kidnapping and torture program (violating all laws of decency and human dignity as well as the 5A with Guantanamo still housing American permanent residents), near-endless wars started without congressional approval (violating Article I) and drone killings of American citizens (violating the 5A).
If it was just about medicine, we should be testing workers and travelers for diphtheria and tuberculosis, deadly and infectious respiratory diseases, and making a yearly flu shot mandatory (38 million people in America got the flu last year). If we are so concerned for our fellow citizens that we force them to vax, why we don’t show similar regard for their general lack of access to medical care for other life threatening things? Why is only COVID subject to so much government?
Biden’s assertion of control over who can and cannot work is clearly overreach. More than half of all Americans are already vaccinated (in some states it is already over 70 percent). The mandate is not the “least restrictive solution.” It is also unconstitutional. Challenges already filed will inevitably reach the Supreme Court. They will likely hang on states’ rights, or the 14A’s equal protection clause preventing discrimination based on health status, for example, workers with AIDS.
There is hope. In a three-justice dissent on a case in which the Supreme Court upheld a state-level healthcare worker vax mandate, Justice Neil Gorsuch expressed concern over the government’s protracted suspension of liberties due to the pandemic. “I accept that what we said 11 months ago remains true today — that stemming the spread of Covid qualifies as ‘a compelling interest,’” he wrote. “At the same time, I would acknowledge that this interest cannot qualify as such forever.”
The challenges filed will not at their heart be about COVID, or medicine at all, but about our democracy. Any notion that public health demands the government take for itself the power to dictate who can work, or which Americans have the right of return, misses the point. COVID should not be the driving force of life in America. A truly healthy society is one where freedom is the core value, not fear.