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The New Epidemic: The Great Political Vaccination Debate

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The Great Political Vaccination Debate: How we got here… 1) Misinformation on the internet… 2) A decline in trust in political leaders and institutions… 3) The overall politicization of science… Christie picked a bad time to have a rough last 72 hours… Scott Walker’s latest political battle -- against the University of Wisconsin System… And Brooklyn bound -- Hillary’s headquarters to be located in Brooklyn or Queens? (Folks, Brooklyn isn’t Des Moines or Manchester.)

The Great Political Vaccination Debate: How we got here: Who would have guessed the top political debate over the past 24 hours would be vaccines to combat measles -- and not President Obama's budget or funding for the Department of Homeland Security? But here we are. In an interview broadcast Monday on “Today,” President Obama urged Americans to get their kids vaccinated. Immediately after, while in London, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he vaccinates his kids, but also added that “parents need to have some measure of choice” -- words that his office later walked back, saying that “there is no question kids should be vaccinated.” Then came the comments by Rand Paul, a doctor: He called vaccines a “good thing,” but also said that they can lead to mental disorders. "I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines." Ben Carson, another GOP doctor, took the other side of the issue and called vaccines “safe.” Finally, Hillary Clinton weighed in on Twitter: “The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let's protect all our kids.”

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Misinformation on the internet, decline in trust in political leaders and other institutions, and the overall politicization of science: So how did we get here? It appears to be a combination of three things. One, the internet and social media have spread misinformation, and a vocal minority has seized on it. Two, there’s been a decline in trust in political leaders, especially those running for office who don’t want to alienate voters. (That might explain why both Obama and Clinton were a bit more skeptical about vaccines when they were running in 2008. Of course, the science and research into vaccines has become stronger since then.) And three, you have the politicization of science -- where even if 98% of scientists agree on one thing, others can always cite the other 2%. (Don’t underestimate politicians not wanting to get on the wrong side of what some argue is a religious freedom issue.) As one of us has pointed out, a 2014 Pew poll found 68% of Americans saying that all children should be required to be vaccinated, compared 30% who said parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate them. There was a slight difference between the political parties: 76% of Democrats said children should be required to be vaccinated, versus 65% of Republicans and independents.

Christie picked a bad time to have a rough last 72 hours: On Monday when writing about Scott Walker’s good run over the past week (first place in the Des Moines Register poll, a well-received speech in Iowa), we noted that the timing of this good news matters -- particularly as potential 2016ers are trying to lasso Mitt Romney’s donors. The timing of bad news matters, too. And for Chris Christie, it’s been a bad time to have a rough last 72 hours. First came his poor poll position in the Des Moines Register poll; we even referred to it as Giuliani territory. Then there was the brouhaha over his vaccination comments in London. And this morning, there’s a tough New York Times piece about Christie’s luxurious overseas travel. The headline: “In Christie’s Career, a Fondness for Luxe Benefits When Others Pay the Bills.” The nut paragraph: “The governor, a Republican now preparing a run for president, shot to national prominence as a cheese-steak-on-the-boardwalk Everyman who bluntly preached transparency and austerity as the antidote to bloated state budgets. But throughout his career in public service, Mr. Christie has indulged a taste that runs more toward Champagne at the Four Seasons. He has also quietly let others pay the bills.” Ouch. Here is something to ponder: Who has a better shot right now at getting the Republican nomination: Rick Santorum or Chris Christie? Few Republicans we know would pick Christie.

Scott Walker’s latest political battle -- against the University of Wisconsin System: Speaking of Scott Walker, don’t miss his latest political battle -- against the University of Wisconsin System. “Gov. Scott Walker's plan to cut the University of Wisconsin System by $300 million over two years would likely lead to layoffs, but closing campuses is not on the table at this time, top school officials said Tuesday,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has written. “Declaring the university system needs to get out from ‘under the thumb’ of state government, Walker said he wants to give the Board of Regents more authority to contract for services and construct buildings without following state rules and processes that other state agencies must. His plan, if approved by the Legislature, would be coupled with a reduction in state aid of nearly 13%. He likened the proposal to the budget cuts that were paired with Act 10, the 2011 law that all but eliminated collective bargaining for most public workers.” A word of caution to Walker: Picking fights with well-known (and famous) university systems comes with peril. Just ask Rick Perry in Texas and politicians in Virginia.

Brooklyn bound -- Hillary’s headquarters to be located in Brooklyn or Queens? Finally, here’s a scoop from MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald: It’s looking like Hillary Clinton will headquarter her campaign in Brooklyn or Queens – and not in White Plains, NY, as previously mentioned. “While Clinton and her advisers had previously eyed the Westchester County city of White Plains, about 25 miles north of Manhattan, Clinton has now more or less decided on a location in New York City, likely either Brooklyn or Queens, according to three knowledgeable Democrats, who spoke on the condition of anonymity since they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the press. A base in gentrifying Brooklyn or Queens could help give Clinton’s campaign a youthful feel, and would likely be a relief for Democratic operatives dreading a relocation to the suburb, or a daily commute from New York City.” Make no mistake: Where you put your headquarters is politically symbolic, and it defines who you are. And Brooklyn ain’t Des Moines or Manchester. This all might seem like a small thing, but it can matter. Just ask Al Gore (who righted his ship by moving his headquarters to Tennessee). And never mind how expensive Brooklyn could be for those campaign workers!

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