There are principled opponents of COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and there are unprincipled opponents. This is about the unprincipled opponents, not the extremists such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor GreeneMarjorie Taylor GreeneGOP efforts to downplay danger of Capitol riot increase The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene says she’s meeting with Trump ‘soon’ in Florida MORE (R-Ga.) with her Holocaust comparisons, but the supposedly sober Republican governors who oppose the military COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
One, Oklahoma Gov. J. Kevin Stitt (R.), along with the Oklahoma attorney general and 16 Oklahoma Air National Guard members, brought a lawsuit to block the mandate as it applied to the Oklahoma National Guard. Their request for an injunction was just rejected by Oklahoma Federal District Judge Stephen P. Friot, whose opinion demonstrates that principled objections to COVID-19 vaccine mandates need to be, well, principled.
The Stitt lawsuit relies mainly on technical jurisdictional arguments about state authority over the National Guard, which Friot, a George W. Bush appointee, dismissed as having no basis in federal law or even “common sense.” The National Guard, he ruled, is an “indispensable component” of the overall national military force, frequently sent to fight overseas and, for vaccination purposes, subject to federal authority. Judge Friot noted that Gov. Stitt and his co-plaintiffs did “not credibly contest” that the COVID-19 vaccine military mandate was needed, as Secretary of Defense Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — Nuclear states say no winners in global war The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Altria – Jan. 6 Capitol attack back in spotlight Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin tests positive for COVID-19 MORE has explained, to meet the “essential military readiness requirements for all components and units of the military, including the Oklahoma National Guard.”
So, what possible justification could the plaintiffs have for jeopardizing the defense of the United States? Stitt has contended that the mandate “violates the personal freedoms of many Oklahomans.” The glaring problem with the personal freedom argument is the selective nature of Stitt’s opposition to vaccine mandates. His lawsuit does not challenge the other nine militarily mandated FDA-approved vaccines that Oklahoma Guard members must take. If a governor objects to just the COVID-19 vaccine military mandate on the ground of personal freedom but not to other military vaccine mandates, then he has some explaining to do or it’s fair to infer that his objection is political in nature. Stitt doesn’t explain why the personal freedom of Oklahoma National Guardsmen is threatened by the COVID military mandate but not by the other military vaccine mandates.
Nor will you find a credible explanation for their vaccine selectivity from the five other Republican governors (Wyoming, Iowa, Mississippi, Iowa and Nebraska) who publicly oppose only the COVID-19 military vaccine mandate but not the other military vaccine mandates.
In fact, much of the opposition of Republican governors to civilian COVID mandates suffers from the same selectivity. Some Republican governors, while opposing such mandates, maintain in their own states other mandatory vaccinations for childhood diseases (Mississippi has nine child vaccine mandates) and for some adults, such as health care workers.
The unprincipled objections of so many Republican governors to the COVID-19 military mandate raise a sad question: Could today’s politically divided United States have won World War II? The “greatest generation” accepted substantial loss of individual freedom during the war. Every cross-border letter and telegram sent by an American was opened, read and subject to censorship by one of thousands of government-employed censors. The federal government told Americans how much food they could buy and how much companies could raise prices. An American could not purchase an automobile because, by federal order, the car factories were turning out tanks and jeeps, and if he owned a pre-war car, he could drive it only so far because of gasoline rationing. Americans tolerated and adapted to these restrictions with remarkably little complaining because they had their priorities right. I think they would have readily accepted a national vaccine mandate if that would have helped to win the war.
But, the opponents of COVID-19 mandates might argue, that was a world war where the U.S. faced a mortal danger. If someone doesn’t think we face a comparable threat then I suggest they read the second paragraph of Judge Friot’s opinion. There, he points out that the military’s vaccine mandate was intended to protect service members from a still-raging virus that “in less than two years, killed more Americans than have been killed in action in all of the wars the United States has ever fought.”
Gregory J. Wallance, a writer in New York City, was a federal prosecutor in the Carter and Reagan administrations, where he was a member of the ABSCAM prosecution team that convicted a U.S. senator and six representatives of bribery. He is a long-time human rights activist and the author of the historical novel, “Two Men Before the Storm: Arba Crane’s Recollection of Dred Scott and the Supreme Court Case That Started The Civil War.” Follow him on Twitter at @gregorywallance.