Governor Perry and the role of government
I’m a Perry supporter; of the people who are currently running, he’s my number one choice. But the Gardasil episode raises important issues of crony capitalism and the role of government that need to be addressed. It’s also bringing out the worst in Perry’s supporters.
What he did, how he did it, and how he made the decision all offer important insights into a potential Perry presidency, and they also offer a perfect touchstone for a discussion on the role of government in personal decisions.
The recap is that, on February 2, 2007, eight months after the FDA approved Gardasil, Governor Perry signed an executive order mandating “the HPV vaccine” “prior to admission to the sixth grade.” Parents could, if they didn’t want this, “submit a request for a conscientious objection affidavit form via the Internet”. By May 9, 2007, the Texas legislature passed a bill overriding the executive order; as far as I can tell, it went into effect before the vaccine was administered under the executive order. The bill “barred state officials from requiring the shots for four years”.1
Trying to implement a mandated medical procedure, even a simple one, needs to go through public debate. But Perry implemented the Gardasil program through an executive order. While it’s true that he now says this was a mistake, we also need to know how committed he is to not making this mistake again. The Texas governorship is supposedly one of the weaker governorships in the United States; when Perry is president he will have a much more powerful position with much more powerful executive orders.
If the temptation was too much to overcome when he was a weak governor, I want to hear how he will overcome it when he is in the most powerful office on earth.
The role of government
I keep seeing people, such as Ace at Ace of Spades HQ, compare HPV vaccinations with the vaccinations we went through as kids, such as polio.2 I just went through my own vaccination records. I received a vaccination for polio, rubella, smallpox, and measles. These are highly infectious diseases that you can catch simply by breathing air that was near an infected person who coughed or sneezed. You can catch them by eating food touched by an infected person or eating food that was near an infected person who coughed or sneezed. You can catch these diseases through no action on your part other than walking by an infected person—or by touching something that the infected person touched. They require mere physical proximity.
You can get the disease just by being near a child; a child can get the disease from you just by being near you.
There is no evidence yet of the HPV viruses that Gardasil vaccinates against being spread other than through sex. You give the disease to an 11-to-12-year-old through sexual contact; you get the disease from an 11-to-12-year-old through sexual contact.
This is not a highly-contagious disease that needs a ubiquitous government program. The vaccine does not even guard against the majority of HPV viruses.3 There is no compelling need that requires us to force parents to make a decision now equivalent to the compelling need for things like the polio vaccine. Parents can make it part of their child’s normal vaccinations if they wish, or they can hold off until the vaccine has been in use for more than a few years as the Texas legislature decided on4. People can still take the vaccine after they turn 18 or even 21 if their parents choose not to give it to them while they are still minors.
It’s probably a better choice for parents to have their kids vaccinated earlier rather than later. But is that really a choice that’s so poor that the choice should be taken away from them? If that’s the standard, there are a whole lot of poor choices that could be open to government mandates. There are a whole lot of poor choices that people make that put them at risk of death. Most of them we don’t want government to require us to fill out forms to keep making the wrong choice.
Conservatives have deservedly been making fun of Michelle Obama for her campaign to increase anti-obesity regulations, and obesity kills at least twice as many people per year as all cervical cancers, not just the ones Gardasil prevents. We can’t have it both ways.
The basic charge against Perry is real: the vaccine comes from Merck, and it makes them a lot of money. It’s not an inexpensive vaccine; they charge around $300 for it. Merck donated pretty heavily to Perry’s campaign, and one of Perry’s advisors turned around and went onto the Merck payroll as a lobbyist.
Now, sometimes that can just happen. There are a lot of people in the beltway who move back and forth between being political advisers and political lobbyists.5 But it doesn’t help that Perry misstated how much he’s received from Merck: he joked about $5,000 but has received at least $28,500.
Michelle Malkin wrote that “If Obama sponsored a Gardasil mandate law, took Merck money and had a staffer-turned-Merck lobbyist, it would be an issue.” You can choose any two of those and it would still be an issue. Conservatives would deservedly call President Obama on the conflict of interest; we can’t ignore the conflict when it’s happening on our side.
However you slice it, Perry bypassed the normal legislative process to do something that would have benefited a campaign contributor. I actually believe him when he says he didn’t sell out. A lot of the people who engage in crony capitalism are nice people. They just don’t see what’s wrong with helping out a friend who happens to be a campaign contributor and who is on a friendly basis with their advisors. But here’s the thing: it’s not cronyism because politicians take money. It’s cronyism because the politician helps out a crony. It may be money that buys the access that results in the friendship, but that’s not the issue. The issue is privileging their cronies at the expense of other businesses—and at the expense of the people buying these things, because the consumer loses when they no longer control their purchases.
Cronyism takes the crony’s business out of the normal free market and bypasses the “customer”—the person taking the vaccine or their parent, in this case—and replaces the customer with the politician. If Perry had been successful, the whole point of it was that Merck would not have to convince each parent that their vaccine was worth buying or copaying for. No other company could compete for Merck’s business, because Merck only has one customer, the governor, and that one customer is a crony of theirs so they’re not likely to lose that customer.
Bribes are easy to deal with. Crony capitalism isn’t really about bribes. It’s about the subversion of the normal legislative process to privilege a handful of influential businesses at the expense of those that mind their own business, so to speak.
With friends like these…
After Palin—who clearly stated support for Perry in the same comments—pointed out that Perry’s actions here deserve scrutiny, some Perry supporters have started to go ballistic. They’re trying to claim that she did the same thing Perry did. Ace at Ace of Spades HQ is probably the most hysterical of these.6
They’re not doing Perry a service. If you look at what Palin did and compare it to what Perry did, it highlights the egregiousness of Perry’s actions. He didn’t need to engage in a perceived quid-pro-quo and bypass free markets and free choices. Ace wants to accuse Palin of crony capitalism and taking money from Merck, but Palin never took Merck money. Nor does Palin have a crony-pro-quo relationship between her advisors and Merck. Palin didn’t require parents to navigate the state bureaucracy to opt-out7: she ensured that the vaccine was available and allowed parents to receive assistance if they needed it. Palin’s actions were pretty much a textbook example of the right way to go about something like this.
Ace either has no idea what cronyism means, or his hatred of Palin is clouding his reason. It’s not cronyism if there are no cronies, no quid-pro-quo, and not even any attempt to monopolize the market. Governor Palin’s actions highlight all of the things Governor Perry did wrong, and make it obvious that this wasn’t a case of being caught up in the times. What Perry did, he did because of who Perry is, and we need to know how he’s improved.
As I said at the top, of the current crop of Republican hopefuls I want Perry to win. He’s not going to win if he can’t answer for actions like these. This is one of those cases where a person’s defenders are doing their side more harm than good.
That presumably means the bill is no longer in effect and Perry could renew his executive order, but of course now that he claims it was a mistake that isn’t likely to happen.↑
Compare is too mild; he’s hysterical about it, as if he knows that in a reasoned debate such comparisons don’t hold water.↑
Perry’s supporters are trying to conflate this type of cancer with the viruses that the vaccine guards against. But the vaccine only guards against some of the viruses that cause the cancer, not all of them. I’ve also heard Perry supporters rounding 11,000 up to 12,000, and even that is a vast overstatement. Now, any number of avoidable deaths are regrettable, but we have far more deaths from other poor choices people make. Do we want state governments and the federal government making those choices for us? Poor driving results in well over 30,000 deaths per year in the United States; obesity well over 20,000.↑
At the time Perry signed the order, the drug had only been approved by the FDA for 8 months. That’s not a long time considering that he was expecting every girl not yet in the sixth grade to take the vaccine. If anything had gone wrong it would have been a disaster.↑
I’m not saying it’s good. Just that it’s the standard way of doing things today. As long as state and federal governments are powerful enough to mandate the use of a company’s products, it will continue to happen.↑
Hysterical is putting it mildly. He’s gone seriously down the passive-aggressive bullshit hole, attacking giant strawmen like he’s Don Quixote on acid. Read that, and then go look at his twitter feed from today and last night.↑
And it looks like “opting out” wasn’t as simple as bringing a note from mom and dad. It’s apparently a bureaucratic nightmare. You don’t fill out a form requesting exemption. You fill out a form requesting a form to request exemption. Then, you fill out that form, and you have to have it notarized. Every two years, you repeat the process. Only originals are valid: if the school or state loses it, you start over, and if you don’t have a valid original, your child cannot attend school.
For something as important as highly contagious diseases like polio, measles, smallpox, and rubella, it makes sense to ensure that people really have to work to stay contagious. But it makes no sense to mandate vaccinations for far less contagious diseases using the same process.↑