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Get out the shovel / October 07, 2021
There’s so much risible nonsense pumped into the public sphere on a second-by-second basis that attempting to correct the record is a task of Sisyphean proportions, but sometimes all you can do is put on wading boots and clean up the muck as best you can.

Oh — by the way, it’s not like Facebook being down most of the day on Monday helped much. The gusher of crazy continues to spew!

So, where to begin ...

This week, a would-be letter writer approached us with a contribution to our Viewpoint column which we had to respectfully decline. I’m sure the letter to the editor will pop up in some other publication that’s desperate to fill space, but just so you know, the reason we refused to run the letter is because it was outrageous anti-vaccine misinformation. To be clear, I have nothing against the lady who submitted it — she seems like a genuinely nice person, and I hope she stays well — but alas, there’s a basic rule that guides our decision-making in such situations. We do not publish out-and-out lies in our newspaper. I’m sure this stance will make some people mad — “some people” of course meaning those deluded souls who have bought into anti-vax propaganda — but we will not be party to spreading dangerous falsehoods that carry potentially deadly consequences for those gullible enough to fall for them. I apologize if all this seems impolitic, but it’s a policy we’re quite comfortable with.

There was once a time when the spreaders of anti-vaccine disinformation were viewed roughly the same way we think of Holocaust deniers: as not only being wrong, but maliciously so. It’s been quite a revelation to see vast swaths of the conservative movement — in Congress and in statehouses, in activist circles and especially on propaganda media platforms like Fox News — make the previously unthinkable transition to anti-science nihilism, doing their level best to undermine trust in an incredibly effective vaccine that represents a gigantic medical advance and has saved countless thousands of lives in the U.S. alone.

Just to review the short history of Covid denialism, less than two years after the advent of this new virus — about which we continue to learn new things each day — researchers developed a safe and effective vaccine which today is widely available and is completely free. And, yes, we have seen breakthrough cases recently, because no vaccine in the history of mankind has ever been 100 percent effective. The difference this time is not the efficacy of the drug; rather, the problem is not nearly enough people have chosen to get vaccinated, which allows the virus to endure in the absence of herd immunity. Before this pandemic hit, in the before-times, we were starting to see a resurgence of the measles for the same reason: because of a nefarious campaign to undermine trust in the MMR (measles mumps rubella) vaccine. I don’t know what these people are thinking, but this rejection of vaccine science — which has saved hundreds of millions of lives around the globe in just the past century — is breathtaking to witness. People throughout history have been susceptible to con artists and bread-and-circus routines, otherwise we never would have had P.T. Barnum, but the extent to which previously respectable elements of society have jumped on the anti-vax train is about the most dismaying thing I think I’ve ever seen in public life. It doesn’t even make sense in terms of sheer opportunism: What does it profit Fox News and the Republican Party to kill off its audience-slash-voters?

On a related subject, Virginia’s election for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general is less than a month away, and polls show a fairly tight race between Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin, which illustrates the difficulty of modeling public opinion surveys to capture exactly which set of voters will show up on Election Day. Virginia went Democratic by 10 points in the 2020 presidential contest, so it stands to reason that one year later McAuliffe would be ahead by a reasonably comfortable margin in the contest for governor. But that’s not what the polls show. The likely reason is Republicans are fired up and eager to reverse a decade of losses in Virginia, and too many Democrats have tuned out. Which is understandable, because politics is a wearying topic, but it’s also bad.

Youngkin, the Republican candidate, is a continuation of a type we’ve seen before: the Jim Gilmore wannabe who makes big promises about cutting Virginians’ taxes, and may try to do so if elected, with predictably disastrous results. I’m old enough to remember the fraudulence of former Gov. Gilmore’s no-car tax pledge, which he partially enacted, wrecking the state’s finances in the process. (In the great state of Kansas, former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback ran for office and won on a similar tax rollback scheme, which, once implemented, gashed education, health care and other public services, torched the state budget and failed to produce the economic growth that Brownback promised would result from his retrograde scheme. Things got so bad the Republican legislature overrode the governor’s veto to reverse the tax cuts and restore sanity to the state’s finances.) This is roughly the sum of Glenn Youngkin’s present-day platform for governor, for anyone not eager to relive yesterday’s mistakes today.

But at least here, Youngkin is peddling a type of tax-cut, supply-side snake oil we’ve come to expect from the GOP. Amazingly, Youngkin also has held up arguably America’s worst governor, Florida’s Ron DeSantis (the competition is fierce) as a model for how he would respond to the pandemic as Virginia’s governor. Heaven help us if this comes to pass. DeSantis has bragged about keeping Florida open during the pandemic while obscuring and downplaying Florida’s deluge of Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths. There’s a balance to be struck between allowing the economy to thrive and protecting public health, and given the choice of how Virginia under Democratic governor Ralph Northam and Florida under Republican governor DeSantis have faced up to this question, the answer is not even close. (Virginia’s August unemployment rate of 4.0 percent is better than Florida’s 5.0 percent rate, and yes, the number is cherry-picked, but I could fill up an entire column with many other reasons why Virginia’s economy is superior to the Sunshine State’s.)

Florida has been a disaster throughout the delta-driven fourth wave of the pandemic, with Third World levels of sickness, incapacitation and death. The fact that Youngkin would cite DeSantis’ “leadership” as a model for his own aspirations if elected should tell you all you need to know heading to the ballot box. The question is: Will voters wake up to Youngkin’s schtick, or will the Election Day turnout skew in favor of the frothiest elements of the Republican Party, with its quack economic prescriptions and even quackier pandemic fixes? (Ivermectin anyone?) I’m going to guess sanity rules the day, but Youngkin could just win this thing, delivering an unwelcome gift of revenge for Donald Trump after he got thrashed in Virginia last year. Stranger things have happened.

Back to the topic of diverse viewpoints and free expression thereof: While we refuse to provide a platform for the anti-vaccine falsehoods in our pages (Facebook, take note), we do welcome viewpoints of all kinds that are within the bounds of legitimate discussion, whether we agree with the arguments expressed or not. To that end, you’ll find a Viewpoint letter today from our old friend, Halifax Council member Jack Dunavant, offering unique perspective on the county school system. You can judge the merits of Dunavant’s arguments for yourself, but I couldn’t help but note his declaration that “I can fix these problems at our high school with the help of a few past and present teachers in 30 days, guaranteed!” I live near the old C.H. Friend Elementary school building, which Jack purchased at surplus auction after the school closed in 2007. He’s kept up the beautiful building reasonably well but otherwise done next to nothing to put it back into productive use. Maybe before turning his attention to the high school, he could fix that problem first?

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