Rand Paul seems to have a knack for making bad situations worse. Following Chris Christie’s inelegant remarks on vaccination on Monday, it was entirely predictable that every potential GOP presidential candidate would be asked a similar question. So when Paul joined Kelly Evans for a segment on CNBC’s Closing Bell, he should have had a careful, disciplined answer to her inevitable question prepared.
Instead, he offered (in part) this:
Do I ultimately think [vaccination] is a good idea? Yeah. And so I had mine staggered over several months. I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines. I’m not arguing vaccines are a bad idea. I think they are a good thing. But I think the parent should have some input. The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children. And it is an issue of freedom and public health.
Christie’s statement was messy, but it was strictly about balancing the government’s power of coercion in matters of public health with parental rights — and reasonable people can negotiate a balance.
But Paul’s answer seems to suggest sympathy with the crowd of vaccination opponents who believe, against all credible evidence, that vaccines are related to various neurological disorders (such as autism). Was that what Paul meant? It did not much matter, as he should have known. His words were aired over and over again on primetime as an example of Republicans’ constitutional imperviousness to scientific consensus.
The obvious thing for Paul to do, then, would have been to issue a straightforward statement clarifying his position. Instead, he offered this:
I did not say vaccines caused disorders, just that they were temporally related—I did not allege causation. I support vaccines, I receive them myself and I had all of my children vaccinated. In fact today, I received the booster shot for the vaccines I got when I went to Guatemala last year.
The correction may be worse than the original statement. It may be true that, reading Paul’s original comments strictly, he did not technically allege causation.
But are we to believe that what Paul was actually saying was, “I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders temporally subsequent to but not because of their receiving vaccines”? If that is what he meant — and he did not intend in any way to suggest by it that the science on the link is unclear – he was literally pointing out nothing more than that one thing happens after another thing.
It is far more likely, though, that he intended to imply in his original comments just what he implied — that Jenny McCarthy might be onto something.
Republican primary voters, take note.