Hypo-Christie! New Jersey Gov Blatantly Panders to Religious Right with Vaccine Diss
Speaking Monday while traveling overseas, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie tried to give his presidential campaign among Republican evangelicals a shot in the arm by saying that parents should have a choice in vaccinating their children. But Christie may have put his foot in his mouth instead.
Christie, while touring a biomedical complex in the U.K. during a trade visit—another effort to boost his presidential profile—said that parents should have a “choice” in vaccinating their children, saying that the government’s requirement that children who attend public schools be immunized may be overreaching.
“It’s much more important, I think, what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official,” he said. “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”
Christie’s comments provoked quick criticism. They come against a backdrop of ongoing outbreaks of measles in 14 states—because small numbers of parents in many states are not vaccinating their kids. That has prompted criticism by the medical community and a growing backlash against vaccine opponents. This weekend, President Obama urged parents to “get your kids vaccinated.”
Christie comments also appear to contradict his order last fall to quarantine a nurse who had been exposed to Ebola, when he defended that decision as better-safe-than-sorry. That observation was one of many on Twitter, where many writers criticized the vaccine comments.
Christie’s staff quickly recalibrated his remarks, issuing a statement: “The governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated. At the same time, different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for balance in which ones government should mandate.”
What’s going on here is Christie is trying to burnish his credentials among evangelical Republican voters in the early GOP primary and caucus States. In late January, when he appeared at the Iowa Freedom Summit, he touted his pro-life credentials as a blue-state governor. That was before Mitt Romney withdrew from the 2016 Republican field, which boosts Christie’s profile—and prompts this kind of political pandering.
The issue of vaccine choice fits under a larger umbrella in the evangelical pantheon, where conservative Christians believe their lifestyles are under attack by secular America. As a result, there is an ongoing push to obtain separate legal rights—such exemptions from vaccine laws, public funds for home schooling and charter schools, exemption from including contraception in employee health plans under Obamacare, and most recently, state-level religious freedom bills to allow discrimination against the LGBT community—essentially protecting the choice not to interact with LGBT individuals in commerce.
There are approximately 400,000 Republicans who will be participating in Iowa 2016 Caucuses. Donna Holman, Iowa state chair of Vaccine Liberation, a nationwide anti-vaccine group, said Christie’s remarks were helpful. “The more people who know about it the better,” she said. “Some people put faith and trust in their medical doctors, rather than put faith and trust in God.”
“Seventy-five hundred people in Iowa have chosen not to vaccinate their children,” Holman said. “There are a lot of other people who don’t have that choice, because they want to send their children to public school… There are some [vaccine] waivers in the laws, but they are hard to get.”
Holman described why she was involved in this issue, which reveals a lot about the slice of the GOP that Christie—and no doubt other Republican presidential hopefuls—are pandering to.
“I started protesting vaccines in 1972 when I heard they were using living cells from aborted babies [to make vaccines]… and growing the viruses in their lung cells,” she said. “I’ve been trying to educate people about that ever since.”