We all knew it would end this way. I just wouldn’t have guessed that endorsing the popular conspiracy theory that vaccines cause autism (which Bachmann misrepresents as “retardation”) would’ve been the point where she finally overextended herself — the straw to break the back of a campaign suffused throughout with delusional hackery, conspiracy theories, and shockingly overt extremism.
Despite repeated studies proving that vaccines do not and never did cause autism, this pernicious little unscientific myth remains fairly common, and benefits from other misguided and high-profile support. Nevertheless, Bachmann’s attack on Gardasil has bought her the enmity of no less than Rush Limbaugh, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and everyone in between.
I suppose we should be glad. Had Bachmann led her fellow candidates to adopt this last lie, the Republican field would’ve lost one of its last tenuous connections to reality. But I admit to some confusion that the candidates would draw the line here. The vaccines/autism connection is no less scientific than creationism, and the renegade studies “proving” it no less sustantiated than the renegade studies “disproving” anthropogenic global warming. Why does the heckler’s veto from agenda-driven rogue scientists demonstrate a “controversy” in global warming, but fail to create the same with Bachmann’s new pet theory?
My guess is, because the “controversies” over global warming and evolution are useful in a way that the “controversy” over vaccines is not. Institutional support for creationism in the Republican Party helps prop up the alliance between social and fiscal conservatives, by convincing Christians to continue voting against their financial interests in the name of identity politics. And perpetuating doubts about global warming feeds the “elitism” narrative so popular among social conservatives, while staving off the type of modern environmental regulations our peer nations have long since adopted, and letting companies like BP get away with murder. Unlike these eminently useful and manufactured controversies, the vaccine myth scares comparatively few, and harms big business.
Here, then, is the difference between Bachmann and her colleagues. Perry, Romney, et al. embrace the extremes for their political gain; Michele Bachmann is just a nutjob.