Inslees vaccine mandate for school staff is supposedly the strictest in the country.
Inslee's vaccine mandate for school staff is supposedly the "strictest" in the country. Screenshot from TVW

At a press conference on August 18, Governor Inslee laid out what his own office claimed to be the strictest "school vaccine restrictions... in the nation." Inslee wanted to show he meant business. If a Washington educator, coach, bus driver or school volunteer was not fully vaccinated by October 18, their job would be on the line. Inslee made this announcement with Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal and Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah at his side.

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The next day, however, the conservative TV commentator Brandi Kruse posted an interview of Chris Reykdal that basically diluted Inslee's message and dampened his claim of being the leader of the rational response to the fifth wave of the ever-so-long pandemic. Kruse reduced the whole interview to these words by Reykdal: "No, we're not going to fire a bunch of teachers." He also seemed to encourage teachers to, you know, lie about their religious commitments to obtain an exemption from Inslee's mandate, or else argue that their commitment to not taking vaccines is a kind of "practice" that would fall under a religious exemption.

What is more bizarre about this interview is that Reykdal is a Democrat who reportedly "'encouraged' Inslee to consider requiring public school employees to be vaccinated," according to the Seattle Times.

I asked Inslee's deputy communications director Mike Faulk to throw some light on this puzzling matter. Did the mandate have no teeth? Was it really that easy to lie your way out of it? What's up, Reykdal?

Faulk quickly responded with these three sharp sentences: "It’s my understanding OSPI is planning to clarify the superintendent’s comments. There are no personal or philosophical exemptions. The process for applying for religious exemptions is still under development." In short, Reykdal is getting a talking to today.

While that is still in progress (the talking to), I want to consider the impressive white conservative resistance to the life-saving vaccine and socially effective masks. Consider this finding, which the Washington Post described in the article, "The ‘what about Black people’ defense of Republican vaccine hesitancy":

Polling data from the Kaiser Family Foundation released Wednesday morning makes obvious the disparity in the importance of each group. It estimates that Black Americans make up about 13 percent of the unvaccinated population and 13 percent of the group that says it will never receive a dose of the vaccine. Republicans, by contrast, make up more than half of each group, including nearly 6 in 10 of those who say they won’t get vaccinated.

This overwhelmingly white conservative stubbornness has been stable for months:

We can, of course, blame this irrational behavior on misinformation, on Fox News, on Trump, on Texas, and so on and so on. But I think this is not going far enough. (And this post is not going that far—another one will, I promise.)

But what all of this white resistance has produced is regret-porn for urban, liberal elites. In our news outlets and on social media, we are now treated daily to stories of anti-vaxxers who, at the end of a lost battle with COVID-19, finally repent, finally change their minds, finally see the light of reason that's so obvious to all who saw the virus as politically neutral. With the last breath of their virus-ravaged lungs, they wish they had taken the vaccine.

This was yesterday's story: "A mom of 4 who died of covid days after her husband makes one final wish: ‘Make sure my kids get vaccinated’".

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There is certainly a new one today. And there will be a new one tomorrow. A few days ago it was not the last breath but a last text: "Father of 5 who later died of COVID texts from hospital bed: ‘I should have gotten the damn vaccine’". And not long before that, another text issued from an ICU ward: "‘I should have gotten the damn vaccine’: Dad sends heartbreaking text before death".

There really is liberal sympathy for these right-wing people because, at last, they repented. Indeed, there is something even saintly about their final submission to the order of reason. But the same can be said for those who went to the grave with their convictions intact. These stories (the proudly unrepentant) are not so popular with the coastal elites now, but I can see, as time goes on, the reverence bestowed on the saints of reason equally bestowed on the monsters of irrationality.

The most brilliant philosopher of the second-half of the 20th century, Michel Foucault, described something like this in the "The Spectacle of the Scaffold" chapter in his examination of the emergence of the modern penitentiary from medieval justice systems in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Those who went to scaffold asking for the public's forgiveness, Foucault claims, were as admired ("he died, in his own way, like a saint") as those who went on the scaffold still ready for a fight to death. Nothing about them had changed. They were born this way. They walked this way. They would die this way.

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