New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) both said Monday that they favor "choice" when it comes to whether parents get their kids vaccinated. This was seen by the Democratic National Committee as "kowtowing to the fringe rhetoric of the anti-vaccination movement."
"Chris Christie isn't a scientist. He isn't a doctor. And he sure as heck isn't a leader," DNC spokesman Mo Elleithee said. "If his campaign is going to be about kissing up to the radical, conspiracy theory base that’s wagging the dog of today’s Republican Party, that’s up to him and his cracker-jack team."
As The Fix reported earlier today, though, resistance to vaccines is a relatively bipartisan issue, even as it's slightly more pronounced among Republicans and independents today. And while there are surely some Republicans keen on an anti-vaccine message, it's wealthy, progressive Californians who basically started the movement.
This group has been dubbed the "Whole Foods crowd." My colleague Jason Millman elaborated at Wonkblog:
...The anti-vaccination movement is fueled by an over-privileged group of rich people grouped together who swear they won't put any chemicals in their kids (food or vaccines or whatever else), either because it's trendy to be all-natural or they don't understand or accept the science of vaccinations. Their science denying has been propelled further by celebrities, like Jenny McCarthy, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and actress Mayim Bialik, who is also a neuroscientist and even plays one on TV.
This is the same crowd that loves hybrid vehicles, organic foods and saving the whales and is often derided by conservatives as tree-huggers. The anti-vaxxer movement has scrambled the ideological divide in some ways, lumping crunchy California types with small-government libertarians. It's helicopter parenting, mixed in with mistrust of science and the government.
And indeed, when you look at vaccine requirements state by state, it's hardly a red-blue divide.
There is a cluster of Western states with a similar approach to vaccines, and blue-leaning states such as Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin are among the states with the highest rate of waivers for kindergarten students -- requiring only a personal belief against vaccines.
On the other end of the spectrum are some red states that have the strictest vaccine laws. West Virginia and Mississippi have among the strictest laws in the country right now -- although that could be changing.
Mississippi lawmakers, for example, just introduced a bill to make it easier for parents to waive vaccination requirements. That state, known for leading in some of the worst metrics, leads the country on the best vaccination rates.
A handful of other Southern states are also pretty strict, too, not allowing exemptions based on philosophical grounds, much like a number of blue states such as New York and Massachusetts.
This is one of those issues that will continue to evolve. A Colorado lawmaker, for instance, is considering introducing a bill to make it harder for parents to opt out of vaccines. It also came up in the 2012 presidential race, when Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) questioned whether the HPV vaccine led to "mental retardation."
It's an evolving issue. But to suggest this "conspiracy theory base" only exists on the right is to miss the forest for the trees.