A Mandate for Disaster

September 20, 2021

A lot of voters underestimated Joe Biden's ability to make a mess of things. But even with depressing headlines about the border, Afghanistan, inflation, COVID, and the Joint Chiefs, the president's allies are worried that the biggest catastrophe is Biden's own reputation. "I think he's got a pretty big credibility crisis on his hands," NBC's Chuck Todd admitted frankly. "Because all of these problems, in some ways, showed up after he said something basically the exact opposite."

Ticking off one policy reversal after another, Todd worried that Americans aren't the only ones shocked by what's happening. It's going to take a lot of work on the world stage, he argued, "to make sure people still view America as -- not just a stable democracy -- but a competent leader of the free world right now."

But competence isn't the first word that comes to most people's minds when they think about this White House. Overbearing, inconsistent, and extreme -- yes. The vaccine mandate alone is forcing Americans to rethink their opinion of this president and his trustworthiness after he said last year he would not pursue a vaccine mandate. Already, the majority of states are on the record opposing his position now of imposing a mandate, which Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge argues is illegal on its face. In a letter signed by 23 of her counterparts, she argued, "Mr. President, your vaccination mandate represents not only a threat to individual liberty, but a public health disaster that will displace vulnerable workers and exasperate a nationwide hospital staffing crisis with severe consequences for all Americans."

Sure, she conceded on "Washington Watch," it may encourage some Americans to get vaccinated, "but we want people to get vaccinated because they've had a conversation with their doctor, with their pharmacist, and in consultation with a medical professional...not because they are being mandated to do so." Forcing people's hands only "increase[s] the skepticism of the vaccine," Rutledge insisted. Worse, it doesn't take into account the uniqueness of the business community. "This is not a one-size-fits-all [situation]," she argued. "Just because the company has 100 employees, it doesn't mean that those hundred employees are working side by side with one another. So many businesses now have allowed employees to work remotely, or they may work outdoors." The idea that we would treat every company the same is an absurd idea -- for America and Joe Biden.

From a strategic standpoint, even liberals wonder if betting everything on the mandate is a good idea for Democrats. "He sounded a bit like a gambler at the point of desperation," the Atlantic's Peter Nicholas observed. "It's a political risk that opens him up to Republican attacks that he's intruding on peoples' freedoms, ahead of midterm elections that could easily strip the Democrats of their congressional majority. Biden gets this. He's all in, win or lose."

But is that wise? Nicholas compared it to George W. Bush's Patriot Act push after 9/11, saying the attack made more Americans willing to be surveilled "in the name of national security." "Enough Americans were traumatized by the events of 9/11 to make that sort of encroachment on civil liberties palatable, so long as it meant the government would safeguard them from another terrorist attack. Over the years, the trade-off proved a devil's bargain, as government watchdogs have chronicled abuses of privacy that had nothing to do with foiling another attack on U.S. soil."

That's been one of the chief complaints about Biden's vaccine mandate. If he can order Americans to relinquish their freedom in the name of public health, what's to stop another president from dictating what we can and can't do with our own bodies? It's a radical intrusion on personal liberty, religious liberty, and state sovereignty.

And yet, even with all of the public outcry, the administration is digging in its heels even more -- sending Dr. Anthony Fauci to the press to float a mandate for children. Even before Pfizer's announcement that low doses of the vaccine had been effective in younger kids, Fauci was laying the groundwork for more arm-twisting. "I believe that mandating vaccines for children to appear in school is a good idea," Fauci told CNN a couple of weeks ago. "We've done this for decades and decades, requiring polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis" vaccinations. Next up, he warned this weekend: air travel. "We have not yet gotten to the point of requiring vaccinations on domestic flights, but everything is on the table."

"We're supposed to live in a country where you're not being dictated everything," Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) fumed. And if the Biden administration thinks this heavy-handedness will eventually break their way -- politically or legally -- they're wrong. The polling is already very unflattering for the president, with majorities in strong agreement that the mandate isn't a) constitutional or b) the role of government. Which is why, Rutledge says, the states aren't going to let the White House get away with it. "As the attorney general of Arkansas, I'm not going to sit silently by while Joe Biden tramples on our rights as Arkansans or as Americans."