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McDermott: GOP pandemic policies couldn't be worse for America if they came from Russia

McDermott: GOP pandemic policies couldn't be worse for America if they came from Russia

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If you were an American political leader secretly working for Russia or some other enemy of America, and you wanted to ensure that the pandemic did as much damage as possible in the United States, how would you go about it?

Not to alarm anyone, but the most obvious strategies toward that dark goal look an awful lot like what passes for public policy today in Missouri and other Republican-held states.

Since virtually every competent medical expert in the world agrees that masking and vaccination are key to stopping the spread of the coronavirus, your first order of business as an anti-American saboteur would be to thwart those remedies.

If the White House reasonably issued vaccine mandates for businesses, then you would want to undermine that policy by convincing people that this was some form of “socialism” — a reliable boogeyman in America for more than a century now. If school boards reasonably sought to require that their students wear masks, then you would want to stoke misinformation and anger among parents about masking.

You could use your status as a public figure to validate and amplify the voices of the irrational anti-vax minority, preying upon otherwise reasonable people’s fear and confusion to coax more of them toward this self-destructive rejection of science. Just keep yelling “freedom!” loudly enough, and you can get some people to do almost anything.

If you happened to have policy power as, say, a sitting governor or state attorney general, then you would have even more leverage to infect America.

As the president tries to impose business vaccination mandates, you could prohibit businesses in your state from requiring employee vaccination — even those that want to — and then sue the federal government over its mandates. You’d likely lose in court eventually, but you could forestall the vaccine mandates long enough to ensure the disease is able to keep spreading.

You could also prohibit schools from protecting their students with mask mandates, thus increasing the odds that some kid’s grandma ends up struggling for breath in a hospital. Again: “Freedom!”

Speaking of hospitals: If you wanted to really make sure the virus devastates America as much as possible, you could do what Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt did last week, and join a lawsuit to prohibit vaccine mandates for health care workers.

Health care workers.

Remember earlier in the pandemic, when desperate health officials offered people money to get vaccinated? Heck, if you wanted to get creative about your mission to infect America, you could offer people money to refuse vaccination.

Every item on the above agenda for America’s infection, which any self-respecting saboteur would embrace, is now being deployed by Republican officials throughout red-state America. That includes the surreal suggestion of giving people money to endanger themselves and others — a policy that Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is considering right now.

Parson said last week he’s exploring the possibility of offering state unemployment benefits to people who lose their jobs for refusing vaccination. It’s meant to counteract the Biden administration policy that goes into full effect Jan. 4, requiring that major employers ensure their workforces are vaccinated or regularly tested.

The Biden policy isn’t actually a vaccine mandate, since workers who don’t want to get the shot will have the option of being tested weekly instead. So in order to lose your job, you’d have to not only refuse to be vaccinated but also refuse to even allow anyone around you to know whether you’re infected. Such holdouts would literally endanger the lives of any unsuspecting coworkers or customers who, for medical reasons, can’t get vaccinated. Which is why it’s perfectly valid to show those holdouts the door.

But then Parson wants to send them unemployment checks? This, after he refused to extend enhanced unemployment benefits to working people who followed the rules and lost their jobs in the pandemic anyway? Words fail.

Those jobless benefits, by the way, are funded through a tax on employers, and by law are only supposed to go to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. Under the policy Parson is considering, the money those employers are paying would go to people who made a conscious decision to violate a legal requirement of their employment, leaving their employer no choice but to fire them.

Remember back when Republicans claimed to be the “pro-business” party, and opposed any government interference in free enterprise? Now Republican governors in places like Texas and Florida are telling those businesses they can’t protect their workforces and customers from a deadly disease, even if they want to — even if failing to do so opens them up to litigation and loss of business. And, in Missouri, employers may soon be forced to pay benefits to employees they had no choice but to fire for cause.

With a “pro-business” party like this, who needs a Politburo?

Obviously, Parson, Schmitt and the rest aren’t sabotaging America’s pandemic response for the Kremlin. They’re doing it for themselves — for their political viability with a nihilistic base that punishes Republican politicians who dare to embrace science and societal responsibility. But, as Missouri’s infection rate inches back up, the end result is the same.

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