Discover more from Roy Edroso Breaks It Down
Anti-vaxxer with an explanation
A corollary to the Reasonable Republican thing
It’s not like me, I know, but today I’d like to amplify on a point I made yesterday.
Let me clarify: I do frequently visit a theme on successive days — like when I did a sketch about Texas’ unlicensed school chaplain corps and it had a trans element, and the next day did another sketch about Trump trying to work the trans angle. But that’s not mindful, it’s just me having a bee in my bonnet, or incipient senility, depending on interpretation.
(Mostly I’m glad I won’t be around in the distant future but I do regret not seeing what the critics who specialize my work will make of all this. “He said himself he was senile!” “Self-disparagement is a signal feature of the Edroso corpus, see my paper ‘Self-disparagement is a signal feature of the Edroso corpus.’” “Oh, yeah? Well, I have seven more super-doctorates than you, so I win!” “[sighs] Edroso! Thou shouldst be living at this hour!” etc.)
You may recall I was talking about the “Reasonable Republicans” who preach anti-Trumpism. Their ways of expressing it, I said, suggested to me that they have, either from ignorance or with malign intent, misinterpreted the real message of Trump — that is, that modern Republicanism was never any good and that MAGA is not an aberration but rather Republicanism in its fully mature fash form.
I also said this misinterpretation had the dangerous effect (deliberate or otherwise) of concealing from the politically uninvolved just how bad the situation is, because it makes the anti-Trump Republican faction look significant and of consequence when it is actually minuscule and impotent, and may thus cause the lumpen to rest easy, deceived that Trump menace is finished, and leaving it all to the op-ed writers and the Reasonable Republican groundswell they pretend to represent until it’s too late.
Today I want to submit a related view about what some conservatives are saying about the anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (Let me say the interchangeable use of “Republican” and “conservative” is, as usual, fine for our purposes.)
You have probably seen conservatives who either believe or pretend to believe that vaccines are the Devil’s work, and who promote RFK2’s demand that reputable virologist Peter Hotez “debate” him on the subject, a source of some humor here.
At the beginning, the conservatives demanding this debate were obvious buffoons like Elon Musk and Joe Rogan (and their less popular variants). But lately some allegedly more intellectual conservatives have been — well, not demanding, because that’s how the uncouth, lower-class conservatives operate, but strongly encouraging Hotez to describe elemental virology and immunology in the presence of RFK2 so the celebrity lunatic may bray his conspiracy theories at him, and then perhaps do some push-ups, so that the morons will pronounce Dr, Hotez owned and clowned.
Those of us who were around for Morton Downey Jr. and every subsequent Debate Me Libs scam know how it works, yet Ross Douthat seems to have missed it. (There are other less highly-placed conservatives than Douthat doing their own version of this, like Abe Greenwald at Commentary, but they mainly cleave to Douthat’s approach.)
The Times conservative affects to believe that the mincemeat Christopher Hitchens once made of him in a debate on the topic of religion — on which subject Douthat still thinks himself to have had the stronger argument! — doesn’t mean “I should not have elevated his arguments by publicly debating them,” but rather that he should have subjected himself to further “defeat or embarrassment,” because “in a free society there is no substitute for trying to win arguments with influential figures” — as if Hitchens were the exact equivalent of political clowns like RFK2 (and — it must be said — as if anyone gives a shit what Ross Douthat says).
Maybe Douthat has spent the years since his humiliation pretending to debate the long-dead Hitchens and thinks now, if only fate reanimates the old sinner a la The Devil and Daniel Webster, he’ll be ready.
Douthat then makes the Argument from Ignorance Once Removed:
Right now the main alternative theory [to this debate] seems to be to enforce an intellectual quarantine, policed by media fact-checking and authoritative expert statements. And I’m sorry, but that’s just a total flop. It depends on the very thing whose evaporation has made vaccine skepticism more popular — a basic trust in institutions, a deference to credentials, a willingness to accept judgments from on high.
In other words: The Republican Party and the conservative movement have trained millions of their most gullible adherents to believe that the 2020 election was stolen, that Hillary Clinton ran a pedophile ring out of a pizza shop, and that COVID vaccination is the medical equivalent of the Nazi Holocaust (assuming, perhaps unfairly, that they believe the Holocaust happened), and if you say to these beliefs, “I’m sorry, buddy, but that’s insane,” then their insane ideas are your fault because you refused to pay homage to their skepticism by spending hours meticulously refuting their YouTube videos.
Even worse, here’s Douthat’s idea of a winning gambit:
…if I were asked to debate R.F.K. Jr., I wouldn’t speak on behalf of the vested authority of science, but on behalf of my more moderate doubts about official knowledge, a much more cautious version of the outsider thinking that he takes to unjustifiable extremes.
Douthat’s talking here about his own embrace of woo over a nasty case of Lyme Disease, which led him in 2021 to declare solidarity with the vaccine skeptics: “there were weirdos on the internet who were more reliable guides to what was happening, what was possible, and what should actually be done than Anthony Fauci…”
In other words, like the Reasonable Republicans I talked about yesterday, Douthat starts out acting as if he’s on the side of the sane — Why, look, he’s on the pages of the New York Times! Would they let some denialist yahoo have a column? — but eventually lets us know that he thinks the RFK2 antivaxxers actually have a point, and maybe if we all just admitted that, we wouldn’t have to argue so much — aren’t you folks tired of the divisiveness in Joe Biden’s America? — and then RFK2 will receive the respect he’s owed as a brave truth-teller (at least among a few new chumps) and can be free to siphon off enough votes to make Donald Trump president (which of course Ross Douthat, being Reasonable, is definitely not trying to make happen).
I’m not the only one who sees it, right?