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New PSA from Mitch McConnell: C'mon, get vaccinated

Is he the most well-known Republican in the country to have cut a pro-vax PSA?

The only others I can think of are GOP physicians serving in the House and Senate. Which was good, but none of them have anything like Cocaine Mitch’s public profile.

In fact, there may be only two Republicans in the United States who are better known to GOP voters than McConnell is. One, George W. Bush, has little currency in the modern party. The other … will not be doing any PSAs for the vaccine, it’s safe to say.

How about Mike Pence, though? Or does his pipe dream of becoming the Republican nominee for president someday preclude him from pissing off populists (again) by endorsing a responsible public health measure?

McConnell is a true blue vaccine advocate, someone who’s endorsed the shots at every opportunity since January. I can’t think of any GOPer, or maybe any member of Congress, period, who’s been as outspoken in support of vaccination. But even so, I wonder if his goal with this ad has more to do with convincing holdouts to get vaxxed or with doing political damage control ahead of the midterms. McConnell has immense influence over public policy but no cultural influence over the Republican base, especially the part of the base that’s resisted the vaccines thus far. He’s a consummate establishmentarian. No righty who’s ignored Trump’s sporadic appeals at rallies to get vaccinated is going to get off the fence because of what Mitch thinks. And McConnell knows that, so why bother with the ad?

What he’s up to here, I assume, is signaling to swing voters as boldly as he can that the GOP isn’t an anti-vax party even if a substantial segment of its voters are. More than 63 percent of American adults are vaccinated and that number is set to rise as the combination of jitters over Delta and vaccine mandates push undecideds into the pro-vax camp. The longer the pandemic drags on, the easier it’ll be for the large vaccinated majority to blame the unvaccinated for it, and the loudest (but certainly not the only) vaccine holdouts in the country happen to be righty populists. The fact that some prominent Republican governors like Abbott and DeSantis are adamantly anti-mandate is also a convenient, and misleading, way for Democrats to lay blame for their states’ summer COVID waves at the GOP’s feet. McConnell’s trying to get ahead of that by advertising that he, the most powerful Republican legislator in the country, is willing to offer his name and likeness in support of the vaccination effort. That should help reassure any moderates who have soured on Biden but feel instinctively squeamish about empowering an “anti-vax party.” McConnell’s message: We’re pro-vax!

At least Mitch is, anyway. More on the PSA:

The PSA has run more than 100 times on local television stations in Kentucky, as it has been out since last week, McConnell’s office told CNN.

The PSA is available to be run across the country and was done in coordination with the National Association of Broadcasters and the Kentucky Broadcasters Association.

This is the second public service spot McConnell has made in an attempt to get Americans vaccinated, with the first one in June paid for by his reelection campaign.

He told CNN he used his own money from the reelection campaign because it’s “awfully important that we continue to push to get more Americans vaccinated.”

I wonder if McConnell’s also anticipating that vaccine resistance might turn nastier as the pressure on holdouts to get their shots increases and he’s looking to get out in front of whatever’s coming. Today the head of Georgia’s public health department told reporters that a mobile vaccination event had to be canceled recently due to anti-vaxxers trying to intimidate the nurses:

“I’ve become aware that many of our workers who are doing these vaccinations are receiving threats, hostile emails, harassing emails,” the state’s Department of Public Health commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said during a press briefing Monday, according to The Telegraph.

“That shouldn’t happen to nurses who are working in the field to try and keep our state safe,” Toomey said.

“I heard one mobile [vaccination] event had to close down because of the bullying and threats that were directed to our team,” Toomey said as she blasted the aggressive behavior by the anti-vaccination campaigners.

That sort of radical anti-vax activism isn’t unique to the U.S., of course. A few days ago the government of Switzerland warned of “potential terrorist attacks on coronavirus vaccine infrastructure including vaccination centres, transport and manufacturing facilities.” I doubt McConnell’s expecting that things will go that far here but he knows that the vaccines will be approved for kids before the year is out and he also knows that some schools will choose to mandate those vaccinations as a condition of attending. And given how febrile some parents have been in venting their anger at school boards this year, the reaction to vaccine mandates for children could be … volatile.

I’ll leave you with this piece that’s circulating today about relatives of some COVID victims looking for ways to keep their cause of death a secret. “You know, I’ve had people say ‘My mother or my father was going to die, probably in the next year or two anyway, and they were in a nursing home, and then they got COVID, and you know, I don’t really want to give a lot of credence to COVID,” said one funeral-home director. Some families have gone as far as to ask that their relative’s death certificate be altered. I think this explanation for that phenomenon is correct: Some people, having gone all-in earlier on “COVID is a hoax” or “COVID is overblown” crankery, would rather see a cover-up of their kin’s cause of death in order to save face than to admit error. That logic probably carries over to vaccine resistance too. If you get your shots then you’re “giving in” to the people who told you all along that COVID is a serious threat. Can’t let them win the argument!