Texas Governor Greg Abbott has had enough of COVID-19 restrictions. He lifted his state’s mask mandate back in March when less than seven percent of adults in his state were fully vaccinated. And now he’s signing into law a bill that cracks down on vaccine passports.
There’s only one problem: vaccine passports don’t exist. They were supposed to, though—the idea of “vaccine passports” was first floated by the federal government as a way for vaccinated people to show proof of vaccination, particularly to travel. Many conservatives viewed that as a restriction on their freedoms—not just to travel, but to go shopping. There’s an argument to be made there. Governments and businesses collecting more personal data and creating digital records involving health information leaves plenty of room for pause. But when several high profile Republicans compare it to Nazis putting gold stars on Jews, the oppression angle gets a bit thick. It might be data collection Trojan horsing inside a necessary public health effort, but that doesn’t make the public health effort any less necessary. Pandemics become pandemics because of travel. COVID-19 proved that.
Either way, the idea is still a hypothetical thanks to the distaste for (and difficulty of coming up with) universally accepted vaccine passports. The term is now a catch-all for any documentation proving COVID-19 vaccination. What Abbott’s legislation really means is that any business denying a customer for lack of that documentation can lose their licenses to operate. They also won’t be able to contract with the state. It’s a sweeping measure that Abbott believes is protecting freedoms. “Texas is open 100% without any restrictions or limitations or requirements,” he tweeted. But the law he signed is actually both.
This is both a restriction and a requirement lmao. The conservative conception of freedom has just devolved into “liberty is when a Republican executive official tells you what to do.” https://t.co/71hXvH2763
— Adam Serwer 🍝 (@AdamSerwer) June 7, 2021
Abbott surely doesn’t care about the contradiction. He’s using this as another opportunity to bolster his reputation as a pandemic defier. That stuff sells in a party of also-ran Trump sycophants. The louder and more prominently you can defy Democrats and public health officials (and reality), the better.
But with one signature (and explicatory tweet) Abbott laid bare conservatives’ warped vision of freedom. The government controlling businesses and issuing mandates is oppressive and evil—unless, of course, Republicans do it to fit their agenda. Then it’s “protecting freedoms.” It’s just like The Atlantic‘s Adam Serwer says in the tweet above—you’re only free if a Republican is telling you what to do. The same logic applies to their view on most issues. Voting is okay, but only if you’re the right kind of person and casting the right kind of votes (for Republican candidates). But the government shouldn’t have a right to tell businesses what to pay their workers—that’s oppressive. It gets difficult to follow, and that’s almost the point. You’re not supposed to think hard, or at all, about this.
The only consistency in conservative logic is that the things they want to happen are rightful and good and should happen to matter what and the things they don’t want are bad and evil and need to be stopped at all costs. The narrative of personal freedoms and liberty simply forms around whichever approach conservatives are taking. And this time, government oversight is protecting our lives and liberty and freedom to consume. Stay tuned—that could change tomorrow.