The vaccine mandator.
The vaccine mandator. JOHN MOORE / GETTY IMAGES

Governor Inslee has put his foot down. By midnight tonight, state workers must be vaccinated or else find another job. The fulfillment of the mandate has local conservatives in a state of great distress and alarm.

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This is their line: We will lose police officers, firefighters, and those other people who do stuff for Washington.

You have Jason Rantz coming out to bat for the state trooper who told Inslee to kiss his ass. This episode, which is sorry in every respect (we are still in the middle of a pandemic and our hospitals are stuffed with anti-vaxxers), even got national attention. Today, Rantz spoke to some cop and his wife, a dispatcher, about why they are willing to sacrifice their jobs for reasons that statistics show to be incredibly stupid.

And then there is, of course, Brandi Kruse, who basically told her low-information audience that the sky is going to fall at the end of the day because of this mandate.

But what about the facts?

The coronavirus has become the leading cause of death for officers despite law enforcement being among the first groups eligible to receive the vaccine at the end of 2020. The total stands at 476 Covid-19 related deaths since the start of the pandemic, compared to 94 from gunfire in the same period.

And what about the recent COVID-19 death of Washington State Patrol Detective Eric Gunderson? Turns out he was not vaccinated, and, as a public servant, he likely put a lot of vulnerable people at risk.

But all of this is so old hat. Top public health officials keep going on and on about it (an exemplary headline: "Anthony S. Fauci, the United States’ top infectious-disease expert, is urging police officers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus"); concerned citizens (or high-information voters) post the actual facts, again and again, on social media.


But still this resistance. What to make of it?

In the deepest sense, it represents yet another contradiction of capitalism. Recall that Marxists are generally on the lookout for these contradictions, and the reason for this is some see them as dynamite sticks that might explode the system. One such contradiction is the one that exists between capital and labor. The former wants to pay the latter less and claim more of the socially generated value.

And so we have this situation:

Next to this situation:

The Marxist geographer David Harvey lists no fewer than seventeen contradictions of capitalism in a book published around the middle of the previous decade. But here is another contradiction, which, admittedly, is not as explosive or as old as, say, the one between capital and labor, or as apocalyptic as the one between the directive of endless economic growth and the real and hard limits of nature. It is, instead, confined to the character of American politics, and it concerns the political viability of unpopular economic interests in a democracy.

What we find in the whole anti-vax fiasco is a vacillating capitalism. On one side, it has to agree with the general will (the vast majority of Americans are actually vaccinated), a will that's supported unequivocally by the left. The reason for this is obvious. Capital wants to get back to the business of unchecked accumulation, particularly in the form of what Harvey correctly calls compensatory consumption, the sector (tourism, large scale events, sports) hardest hit by the pandemic.

This urgency explains much of Inslee's firmness on the issue of the mandate. He is nowhere near a socialist. He wants the state's pre-pandemic economic machine back in working order. He keeps pressing for the border with Canada to be fully opened. He can't bear to see the state's cash registers suffering another dismal holiday season. And so what is driving Inslee — aside from his genuine desire to prevent needless death — is the business interest, which will be disappointed if COVID-19 continues to threaten and even crash our health care system.

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But here is the problem — and it's here where Kruse, Rantz, and their kind step into the picture: the political viability of the business interest is also heavily dependent on types that say dumb shit like: "[I'm taking a] moral stance for medical freedom & personal choice". These anti-vaxxers, who tend to be white, are over-represented in American politics. While the majority of US citizens don't jibe with the current composition of the Senate, or even of the Supreme Court, this small and diminishing group does. But the way their self-destructive super-votes structure the American system benefits capital's will toward what Marxists call primitive accumulation — or, put another way, accumulation by dispossession.

This is the nature of the current contradiction, and this is why capital is vacillating. The management of the pandemic demands, above all, a stronger state and firm mandates. Capital does not want any of this because, with good reason, it has always felt threatened by state power, which doesn't have the economic as its defining logic or motive. The state can, and often does, "disembed" the market for other priorities, to use the term by the 20th century economic historian Karl Polanyi.

But, on the other hand, American capital can't abandon its most dependable voters — those who, through a mental conception that's simply intoxicated by the strange American cocktail of guns, whiteness, and white Jesus, really believe in individual freedom and their liberty and the greatness of consumer choices (Ford F-150 or RAM 1500?). Though the unvaccinated make up a minority of the population here, the mainstream habitually amplifies their voices in much the same way the political system amplifies their votes.