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Get out the shovel / October 13, 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 last week for almost a full day helped much. The gusher of crazy continues to spew!

So, where to begin ...

Last week, a would-be letter writer approached us with a contribution to our Viewpoint column which we had to respectfully decline. Predictably, the letter to the editor popped up in other publications that must’ve been desperate to fill space, but just so you know, the reason we refused to run the letter is because it was bold-faced 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and I hope she stays well — but alas, there’s a basic rule that guides our decision-making in such situations: We do not publish out-and-out lies in our newspaper, especially lies that are actively dangerous to public health.

I’m sure this stance will make some people mad — “some people” of course meaning those deluded souls who buy into anti-vax propaganda — but we will not be a party to spreading 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: not only as 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 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 lives in the U.S. alone.

Just to review the short history of covid denialism, less than a year after the advent of this new virus — about which we continue to learn fresh information 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 behold. People throughout history have been susceptible to con artists and bread-and-circus acts, 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 bandwagon is just 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. 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 an exhausting topic, but the apparent closeness of this race is also very bad.

Youngkin, the Republican candidate, is an update 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 if implemented. I’m old enough to remember the fraudulence of former Gov. Gilmore’s no-car tax pledge, which he partially put in place while wrecking the state’s finances in the process. In the great state of Kansas, we saw the fruits of a similar effort: former Republican Governor Sam Brownback won election on a grant tax rollback scheme, which he succeeded in getting passed. All it did was gash education, health care and other public services, torch the state budget and — wait for it — drag down the economic growth that Brownback had promised would flow 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 model for Glenn Youngkin’s present-day platform for governor, for the edification of anyone not eager to relive yesterday’s mistakes today.

But at least here, Youngkin is peddling the sort of tax-cut, supply-side snake oil we’ve long come to expect from the GOP. In a more modernist twist, 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 ever comes to pass.

DeSantis has bragged about keeping Florida open during the pandemic while obscuring and gaslighting Florida’s crushing number of covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths. There’s certainly a balance to be struck between allowing the economy to thrive and protecting public health, but given how Virginia under Democratic governor Ralph Northam and Florida under Republican governor DeSantis have each performed in this regard, the choice of who has done the better job is not even close. After some initial stumbles, the Northam administration has been competent stewards of the Virginia economy and the state’s coronavirus response effort, with much, much less human misery unfolding under its watch than Florida has experienced with DeSantis as governor. Virginia’s economy is also better — our August unemployment rate of 4.0 percent was 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 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 shtick, or will the Election Day turnout favor the frothiest elements of the Republican Party, with its quack economic prescriptions and even quackier pandemic fixes? (Ivermectin anyone?) I’m going to guess that sanity rules the day, but Youngkin could just win this thing. If it happens, it’ll be an unwelcome gift of revenge for Donald Trump after he got thrashed in Virginia last year. Stranger things have happened.

On a completely unrelated note, our condolences go out to the family of Steve Howell of South Hill, who I got to know years ago during my time as co-host of radio’s lowest-rated, least-missed program of all time — a local talk radio show with Greg Thrift, who at the time was the voice of WJWS/WHSV-Radio in South Hill. Someone at the station (if I recall correctly you can blame Greg) thought it would be a great idea to air a community talk show with yours truly invited to talk at length about the news of the day. Most people would run away from that proposition like a scalded dog, but it didn’t work out that way and based on how the show generally went, the only reason I wasn’t preemptively cancelled from public life (before that was a thing) was because of Steve Howell. His easygoing demeanor had a settling effect on me, and he was a wonderful teacher on the finer points of radio broadcasting, acting as the behind-the-scenes presence that kept the entire enterprise from careening out of control. Some people have a wise and generous way about them, and Steve was certainly among them. Rest in peace, old friend.

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