It is easy to understand why people have grown weary of being told what they can and cannot do during our COVID nightmare. It is similarly easy to understand why Republican politicians have leaned toward earlier exit ramps from restrictions than their Democrat counterparts.
But as we move from mask battles to vaccine battles, the narrative has become complex. Not only conservatives oppose mandatory vaccines, and it would seem bipartisan to oppose a vaccine requirement for interaction with government at any level. But as various businesses seek to stretch their liberty legs in the area of vaccine policy, they are finding conservative opposition, from both elected officials and the public.
From their seats as America’s go-to conservative governors, Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas seem mighty proud of telling businesses whom they must permit onto their property. And after 15 months of rules from the mountaintops of government and health authorities, there are plenty of citizens who are similarly dismissive of restrictions from businesses.
The problem here is obvious. Freedom grants latitude in many ways. It gives individuals the choice of whether to get vaccinated; it obligates the government not to require proof of vaccination to deliver services; and — here’s the surprise for many — it supports a business in establishing conditions for customers.
As DeSantis hits a series of conservative home runs in Florida, he has chosen to tell businesses in the state — even cruise lines — that they cannot require customers to be vaccinated. Abbott has echoed this intent in Texas, and both governors are basking in approval from conservatives hailing this as a big win.
What a curious moment.
Is this an uprising among unvaccinated people who are in no mood to be ostracized by the decisions of unwelcoming businesses? Is it pushback born of vigilance fatigue? Have people grown tired of rules, no matter where they come from?
Interfering in business policies is not congruent with liberty, no matter the motivation of the elected officials. This makes the current chorus of support an odd sound from the mouths of conservatives.
Aren’t we conservatives the people who stood up for florists and bake shops to make their own choices about what types of creative work they produce? Aren’t we the people who tout the free marketplace as the environment where businesses have the freedom to conduct themselves as they wish, and customers are free to reward or ignore them with their dollars as they see fit?
That lofty concept has apparently been suffocated by a new strain of activism, fueled by the curious desire to create some special protected class for the unvaccinated. Again, this is unfamiliar turf for conservatives. But GOP leaders are hearing the calls from many in the grassroots seeking more than a loosening of restrictions from government; they also want an assurance that not even private businesses will be allowed to choose their own rules.
Suddenly this is some new type of “discrimination.” To be clear, a vaccine requirement isn’t akin to banishment from a lunch counter. And what is apparently needed is a refresher in consistency on the subject of limited government.
The flow chart is not hard to follow: It is wrong for the government to require vaccines; it is wrong for the government to require vaccines as a condition for government services; and it is wrong for the government to tell businesses what their policies should be on the matter of requiring vaccines.
As mask requirements waned, customers voted with their dollars, opting to frequent locations with policies they liked while ignoring those with policies they opposed. Vaccine policies would be no different; anyone objecting to a vaccine requirement may proceed in search of other businesses. What they may not do is invent some right to walk in unvaccinated against a stated policy.
But those seeking to do just that are reaching for every straw, including “privacy,” as if it is wildly intrusive to ask for vaccine proof. Problem solved — anyone not wishing to answer that question is free to walk away from that business. The system works.
The concept of freedom of choice arises often in this debate, as well it should. But choices have consequences. The unvaccinated are not relegated to some underclass of pariahs; they have made a choice they have a right to make, which places them in conflict with businesses making decisions they have a right to make. This is a textbook case of how a free society’s gears interact.
While cruise ships, with their confined spaces and tricky COVID history, have been at the forefront of the vaccine rule conversation, there is not a long list of other businesses moving to restrict admission to those who have had the shot. Some events may take this step, as at Madison Square Garden next week, where the Foo Fighters will play to a capacity crowd of vaccinated concertgoers.
In general, it appears this whole vaccine dustup may go the way of the mask debate, as the virus loosens its grip and settles into history’s rearview mirror. But until that happens, it is worth remembering that the liberties we have long been denied during the pandemic also extend to private businesses. Their rights do not expire simply because some customers are tired of rules and some politicians are looking to score points.
Mark Davis is a radio host and frequent contributor to The Dallas Morning News. The Mark Davis Show airs from 7 to 10 a.m. weekdays on KSKY-AM (660). Email: [email protected]
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