Greg Abbott: I've just made it illegal for businesses to require proof of vaccination in Texas

Bad enough that the governor of Texas, of all places, would stoop to micromanaging businesses by telling owners how to run their shops. But he’s doing it to pander to anti-vaxxers, the people who are keeping the pandemic going.

Telling bakers to bake the cake if it’s unvaccinated person who’s requesting one is a bold new front in “populist” lib-owning.

It can’t be a coincidence that he and Ron DeSantis, the two governors who have been most aggressive in banning vaccine passports, are each up for reelection next year. In fairness, I think DeSantis is simply trying to earn brownie points for his national run in 2024; Abbott, however, may be worried about protecting his right flank in case he gets primaried by a firebreather like Allen West.

“From social media legislation to infringing on economic liberty to protect anti-vaxxers, to speech codes in American education, the GOP is becoming the party that says, ‘Bake the cake, bigot. Your freedom stops at our feelings,'” wrote David French after watching that clip. Indeed. Whatever libertarian impulses were left in the party by 2016 have been drained away over the past five years, leaving a desiccated nationalist husk that’s happy to contradict itself endlessly on principle in the name of protecting its interests — or punishing its enemies, as is more typically the case.

I think that explains Abbott’s ban on vaccine passports, since you don’t really need a formal legal ban to discourage most businesses from requiring proof of vaccination. The market will do that. Business owners won’t want to leave money on the table by turning unvaccinated customers away, especially if they’re vaccinated themselves and thus at little risk of infection. If they want to take precautions, they can always require something less intrusive like mask-wearing on the premises instead. Besides, as the summer wears on and more Texans slowly come around to getting vaccinated, the problem of unvaccinated customers will slowly decline as well. Abbott isn’t striking a meaningful blow for the unvaccinated here, in other words, he’s striking a symbolic blow at public-health experts and vaccinated Americans who’d rather not run any risk of being crowded into a small retail space with an unvaxxed person who might be infected. If you can’t do something useful to improve your voters’ lives, you can at least bring grief to their enemies. That’s the GOP’s motto in 2021 and that’s what Abbott did here.

The “bake the cake” analogy both is and isn’t apt. It’s dissimilar in the sense that the Masterpiece Cakeshop situation involves two conflicting rights, the right of someone not to be discriminated against based on an essential attribute like sexual orientation and the right of conscience to not support a ceremony like a gay wedding that violates the tenets of one’s faith. There are no such fundamental rights at stake in the case of an unvaxxed person wanting to patronize a business that’s requiring proof of vaccination — in which case, one would think, a Republican governor like Abbott should defer to the proprietor’s right to run his business as he sees fit. No shirt, no shoes, no shot, no service. The counter to that, though, is that there *is* a right at stake, the right of the customer to medical privacy. Normally we don’t allow business owners to quiz patrons about their susceptibility to dangerous diseases as a condition of admission, right?

But, actually, sometimes we do. We let schools demand proof of vaccination from children as a condition of enrollment. Countries require proof of vaccination from international visitors before allowing them entry. With a deadly airborne infectious disease, one’s right not to supply medical information ends at the service provider’s right not to be exposed to the virus. Plus, let’s be real: Although “medical privacy” is often invoked as the reason why unvaccinated people shouldn’t need to reveal their status, it’s a red herring. Anti-vaxxers normally aren’t shy about discussing their views of the vaccine. To the contrary, most seem happy to talk your ear off about why they’ll never get the shot. And why shouldn’t they talk about it? There are many medical conditions someone might understandably feel ashamed of disclosing but choosing to be immunized or not immunized against a virus that causes fatal pneumonia in some cases isn’t one of them. Asking someone if they’ve been vaccinated for COVID should be no more or less intrusive than asking them if they’re getting the flu shot this year.

The unvaccinated aren’t worried about having their “privacy” violated, they’re worried about suffering any sort of consequence, however small, for their decision to extend the pandemic by refusing to get immunized. It’s part of the mentality that they’re being victimized somehow by the national vaccination effort instead of being offered access to a miraculous health benefit that most people around the world would be overjoyed to have. And as I say, even if Abbott had done nothing, I bet most unvaccinated Texans would never actually encounter a business where proof of immunization was required. Market dynamics would prevent it. And if they didn’t, anti-vaxxers could organize boycotts to punish businesses requiring vaccine passports in order to put a little extra pressure on them to relent. Abbott intervened because he saw a cheap grandstanding opportunity ahead of his gubernatorial primary.

In lieu of an exit question, go read Jim Geraghty on why it makes sense for cruises, at least, to demand that passengers be vaccinated. He’s right, but our dumb politics means that cruise lines are going to keep risking outbreaks aboard too.