Why Do We Need Mandates?

Terry H. Schwadron

Sept. 12, 2021

As we can see, the backlash over Joe Biden’s executive orders mandating vaccines — or weekly covid tests — as a public health stand to finally seek to end the conditions that allow for widespread pandemic promises itself to mandate resistance and public protest in the name of individual liberty.

We shouldn’t be facing mandates — whether for vaccines or masks. Americans should have wanted to protect themselves and their neighbors, work colleagues, school students and teachers that they took the pandemic seriously enough to do this by themselves, without having to be told to do so.

But we haven’t done so in sufficient numbers to keep from seeing covid numbers rising anew, particularly among the unvaccinated, and particularly in states where Republican governors, who themselves have gotten vaccinated, have made mandates of any kind a sign of political weakness rather than a positive for public health.

Apart from covid, then, there’s enough fuss to make us re-consider what should be made mandatory, and what we’re comfortable enough to allow as more voluntary compliance, especially if the effects are demonstrably evil.

Clearly, there are varying medical, political, “anti-authoritarian” reasons for objecting to mandatory vaccine programs at companies larger than 100 employees, on buses, trains, and planes, in schools and on playing fields. There is only one reason for the mandates: Voluntary compliance has been incomplete enough to allow covid to continue to spread, turning America (and other countries) into a mutation-generating lab for years to come.

Biden has made clear that having school children who are ineligible for vaccines getting hospitalized or dying in sizeable numbers or to have ICU beds fill up again is simply not acceptable, forcing mandates he himself had opposed months ago.

The Rules

After just a few days of debate, it seems clear that there is plenty of historic legal precent for the orders with Supreme Court decisions going back a century. And, with caveats, there is scientific consensus as well.

So, let’s just agree that the disagreement is over its political wisdom, even if there remains a narrower argument over when mandates are issues, they should come from the federal government, the states, or cities. It is hard to separate all this from partisan politics.

I just watched as my kids were faced mandated evacuating from the path of California wildfires. Simple enough: Comply or face death. Of course, they left the home, which eventually was spared, without disputing a mandate — unlike the perennial refusals we see in hurricane areas from those who inevitably then demand to be rescued later. In the week leading up to Biden’s vaccine mandate, an average of 1,110 people in the US died daily from Covid, data show.

But in Texas and so many other states now, it is seen as perfectly reasonable to ban abortion (or so limit it as to effectively shut down clinics) without regard to women’s health choices, just as it is proving reasonable to tell people how they cannot vote. In most states, marijuana is not a choice, it is subject to mandate. In school districts across the country, students cannot enroll without basic public health vaccinations.

We gladly accept rules to drive on the right side of highways, agree that drivers must buy collision insurance to own a car, or insist that parents strap children in increasingly large and complicated car seats — all in the name of safety over personal choice. We have speed limits, we fill up at gas stations with rules about smoking and control of the octane mix, and annual state inspections of vehicles. Why should we accept those kinds of rules?

We want the federal government to enforce its standards for meat safety and basic worker safety rules, we call the government out if it is not enforcing railroad crossings, and the rules we set for migrants and immigrants is so complicated that normal humans can’t understand all the ins and outs to fit within the regulations. Someone is supposed to guarantee that we no longer use child labor in factories or allow dangerous chemicals just to be poured into the ground because it’s cheaper.

We just got through a Donald Trump administration that wanted only voluntary compliance with industrial pollution rules and saw an immediate increase in problems. We have accepted the fact that we need rules and standards for concrete to avoid having buildings collapse in the way we recently witnessed in Miami Beach. We understand that we need rules to enforce public sense to keep people from starting wildfires, or to stop looting and crime in general.

In short, we decided a couple of centuries ago that America needs rules and set up a government to provide them.

Accepting Rules

So, we apparently accept some rules, but not others.

It’s choice all day long, including for death-defying covid protections, unless “choice” means abortion, same-sex marriage, gender fluidity, work for more than minimum wages.

The trick, obviously, is to figure out which ones we will accept. And for that, we traditionally have asked our politicians to turn to science and experts in various public safety fields for advice and counsel — even as we understand that the American political process too often and too heavily depends on hired lobbyists who serve narrow corporate or other interests in seeking to set the scope of regulation.

But we’ve decided now that institutions, scientists, teachers, journalists, and others are no longer to be trusted. The “populist” argument is that anyone can have an opinion, and that any opinion — presented as fact — is as good as the next one.

But these are the people who are supposed to be around to provide the treatments or clean up the mess left behind by vaccine or other rule resisters.

This is exactly why mandates will run into trouble. Instead of dealing with covid, we are preferring to fight with one another about the appropriateness of mandates. To listen to the political Right, it is Joe Biden’s fault both that covid numbers are rising and that mandating vaccines are authoritarian; by comparison, it is not seen as a “fault” that covid cases are spiraling Florida, Texas and South Dakota where Republican governors have gone out of their way to stop local mandates and even eliminated some public health services.

Criticize the mandates all you want. The alternative has not been effective at dealing with the problem at hand.



Journalist, musician, community volunteer