Republican members of Congress and conservative talkers have wrongly pitched the effort as forced vaccination — even repeatedly invoking the Nazis — and lodged baseless suggestions that it would be done using illegally obtained medical information. Others have suggested it’s something akin to government coercion or even a precursor to gun confiscation.
We know relatively little about the nascent effort thus far, but what we do know bears little to no resemblance to these allegations.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) got the ball rolling Tuesday by comparing the effort to “medical brown shirts showing up at their door ordering vaccinations.” Not to be outdone, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) took to Twitter the next day to offer her own Nazi comparison, labeling the door-knockers “needle Nazis.”
If anyone should know the folly of such metaphors, it would seem to be Greene, who just three weeks prior conceded in an apology after another wayward Nazi/coronavirus comment that “there is no comparison to the Holocaust.” And it’s worth emphasizing that there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to believe door-knockers would compel vaccinations, which would be illegal, in the way Nazis and the Sturmabteilung, also known as the brownshirts, used violence to enforce their political will.
But while these might be the most extreme examples, they’re hardly alone.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson also wrongly pitched this effort as being about forcing vaccinations. “The idea that you would force people to take medicine they don’t want or need — is there a precedent for that in our lifetimes?” he said Tuesday. Again, that’s not at all what is proposed here. But it didn’t stop Carlson on his show, where nuance often goes to die, from saying, “I honestly think it’s the greatest scandal in my lifetime, by far. I thought the Iraq War was; it seems much bigger than that.”
(Fox News political analyst Brit Hume, to his credit, responded to Carlson’s comments by gently noting his summary was incorrect and that maybe there should be a little more benefit of the doubt.)
Others on Fox News have pitched this as an effort to obtain and use medical information, even though nobody would be compelled to disclose it. And they have suggested it would devolve into bullying and coercion — the latter, at least, being a logical potential worry.
“Going door-to-door? This is creepy stuff,” Fox host Laura Ingraham said. “Someone comes up to your door outside wearing a mask, showing up at your house claiming to work for the government, asking you personal medical questions — what could possibly go wrong there?”
On another Fox show Wednesday, Trace Gallagher likened the door-knockers to drug dealers — “door-to-door vaccine pushers.” Fellow host Will Cain later claimed this would amount to “invading your privacy.” He said that “hectoring you to go ahead and get their experimental-use vaccine isn’t going to go over well.”
Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) also pitched this as an effort to coerce, using scare-quotes around the idea that it was truly an “optional” vaccine.
It is not a privacy violation to knock on someone’s door, and efforts to bully — rather than truly provide information and access to vaccines, as the Biden White House says this is about — would surely be captured on video and go viral in a way that would greatly discourage such things.
Some of the more baseless theories involve how the effort will be set up.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) suggested it would be done using private medical information to target the unvaccinated. Brnovich, who is running for Senate, wrote a letter to Biden saying he “was greatly alarmed by your White House indicating that it might be in possession of medical records revealing the contact information for Americans who have not been vaccinated.” The White House, though, indicated no such thing. And it said Wednesday that the effort would instead focus on areas with relatively few vaccinations.
This didn’t stop Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) from making the same suggestion even more forcefully on Thursday, though.
“[Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier] Becerra and Biden have you on a list and are going door-to-door,” Bishop claimed.
(Becerra did himself few favors in the above interview, responding to GOP critics of asking about vaccination status by saying that “it is absolutely the government’s business.” But that’s not the same as having a preexisting list or even keeping one afterward. And he clarified later that the “government has no database tracking who is vaccinated.”)
Lastly come the slippery-slope arguments. Boebert, before lodging her Nazi comparison Thursday, argued that the effort could pave the way for gun confiscation.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) offered a slightly less far-reaching warning Thursday: “What’s next? Knocking on your door to see if you own a gun?”
The government cannot confiscate your guns without passing a law, which isn’t happening anytime soon (and even in that case, would draw Second Amendment challenges). What’s more, census workers have been knocking on doors for many, many years, and somehow Americans still have lots of guns. And lastly, the Biden administration has emphasized that these will not be federal government employees, but rather local volunteers.
It’s possible that many people would rather not be bothered by someone knocking on their door for this purpose — and might even react angrily. It’s also possible some passionate, vaccine-advocating door-knockers will be a little too pushy for some people’s liking. (Such is the nature of quickly arranged large-scale efforts relying upon volunteers.) It’s even possible the whole thing could backfire if it causes vaccine skeptics to dig in against Big Brother.
But the situation is only made more volatile by people making Big Brother appear bigger than it is, based upon rumor and innuendo. And that’s what’s happening right now.