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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: McMorris Rodgers sheds crocodile tears over vaccine confidence

UPDATED: Fri., July 30, 2021

Cathy McMorris Rodgers is all smiles while meeting with media on election night last year.  (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)
Cathy McMorris Rodgers is all smiles while meeting with media on election night last year. (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)

If Cathy McMorris Rodgers were sincerely concerned about a lack of confidence in the vaccines, she would do something real about it and forgo the anti-government fear-mongering and craven bootlicking about Operation Warp Speed that she spouted this week.

She would follow the McConnell plan.

Even as McMorris Rodgers and her fellow House conservatives are singing a chorus that the CDC’s renewed guidance for mask-wearing indoors will undermine confidence in the vaccine – the empty, staged concern of the fox for the henhouse – Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, spent money from his own campaign coffers to send a clear message: Get the vaccine.

Not: Talk to your doctor.

Not: I believe in the vaccine but you do you.

Not: Freedom!

Not: “Remember the glories of Operation Warp Speed.”

Nope. Just the simple truth: The vaccine is safe. The vaccine works. Get the vaccine.

This is the message McConnell, and some other Senate Republicans, have begun emphasizing in an effort to counteract anti-vaxxer sentiment in their own political circles.

Meanwhile, what is McMorris Rodgers doing as her state approaches a fifth wave bolstered by low vaccination rates in rural red counties? Complaining that the renewed guidance for indoor mask-wearing will “undermine vaccine confidence,” whining that Trump has not received enough praise for Operation Warp Speed, and suggesting that the latest CDC recommendations are nothing more than an effort by Biden to employ “force and fear” – not to mention “command and control.”

Talk about undermining vaccine confidence.

This faux-concern over vaccine confidence is, one assumes, some GOP strategist’s idea of a clever rhetorical play – pretending to care about the shots while heaping wood on the bonfire of anti-government paranoia driving politicized anti-vaxxers. At this stage, though, with the pandemic roaring back, clever political plays are reprehensible.

The return of the mask-wearing guidance truly, deeply bites. It is especially crushing for those of us who spent the last year attempting to do the right thing to protect ourselves and others, and to bring the pandemic under control against a steady wind of resistance on the right. We wore masks, we stayed home, we got our shots and now we’ll make the sacrifices we need to make to try – again – to put this problem in check, while those who are keeping it alive continue down their reckless path.

No, the renewed calls for masking are lousy indeed, and the resurgence of the delta variant is a dispiriting and exhausting development, and none of us wants to go through any more of this. But it is not some dark, perfidious effort to deny Americans their freedom, and it is stupid and despicable to say so. It would be a mistake to expect anything more honorable or honest from McMorris Rodgers, and yet even by her own low standards this shows atrocious leadership.

McConnell, on the other hand, has somehow managed to do better, and there is not a more cutthroat political operator on earth. He’s spending tens of thousands of his own unspent campaign cash to air 60-second radio spots across Kentucky, urging people in clear, unqualified terms to get their shots and expressing what is now, apparently, radical in his party: faith in science and scientists.

“(T)hanks to American investment and ingenuity – and especially thanks to the tireless work of our scientists, doctors and health care heroes – it took less than a year for us to develop three highly-effective COVID vaccines,” McConnell says in the ads. “It’s nothing short of a modern medical miracle.”

He discusses his own battle with polio as a child, and adds, “If you haven’t been vaccinated, do the right thing for you – for your family – and get vaccinated right now.”

This is the message McMorris Rodgers owes her constituents: Get vaccinated right now. Those who need to hear it most need to hear it from her and people like her. Not from Joe Biden or Jay Inslee, not from Anthony Fauci or Sanjay Gupta, not from the CDC or the Spokane Regional Health District. No, none of those will serve, because politicized people who lack confidence in the vaccines do not believe reliable, factual sources.

They need to hear it from people like Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or at shawnv@spokesman.com.

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