It seems absurd in retrospect, but there was a brief moment in the race for the Republican presidential nomination in which Michele Bachmann appeared competitive. Soon after, for a variety of reasons, her candidacy imploded, but there was one issue in particular that proved problematic.
In early September 2011, as part of an effort to undermine Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Bachmann attacked giving the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to girls. The right-wing lawmaker claimed that the HPV vaccine can lead to mental retardation -- a claim with no foundation in reality -- which led to a larger discussion of Bachmann's penchant for saying ridiculous things. Her campaign never recovered.
I mention this because the HPV vaccine is back in the news under politicized circumstances. Unfortunately, it appears South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) took note of last year's controversy, but learned the wrong lessons. Ed Kilgore reported yesterday:
...Haley abruptly vetoed an HPV vaccine bill passed by the GOP-controlled legislature. The bill included both an opt-out option for parents objecting to the vaccine, and a provision putting off its implementation if funding is not subsequently secured. But that didn’t keep Haley from attacking it as ““a precursor to another taxpayer-funded healthcare mandate.” What makes the incident especially interesting is that Haley was an early cosponsor of a similar bill in 2007. She admits she’s changed her mind on the subject, but doesn’t really explain why.
Could Haley’s palpable national political ambitions be a factor?
It's hard to see this story any other way.
For those who aren't familiar with the larger issue, the human papillomavirus increases a woman's chances of developing cervical cancer. For several years, there's been an FDA-approved vaccine available that immunizes against HPV infection. But as the Republican Party has become more radicalized, the vaccine has been caught up in a culture war.
In fact, the religious right strongly opposes access to the vaccine, arguing it encourages minors to have sex. (By that logic, fire extinguishers in schools encourages minors to play with matches.)
To his credit, in 2007, Rick Perry did the right thing and endorsed the vaccine for girls in Texas For his trouble, Bachmann used the issue to attack Perry last year. It was damaging enough to cause the Texas governor to apologize for the one sensible thing he's done in office.
This year in South Carolina, meanwhile, Republican policymakers approved the most watered-down bill possible -- unlike in Texas, where the vaccine was temporarily mandatory, the South Carolina bill made it easy for parents to opt their kids out.
Haley still vetoed the HPV vaccine bill.
Instead of looking at the 2011 fight and thinking, "Bachmann looked like a loon on the HPV story," the South Carolina governor seems to have concluded, "Perry was attacked over this, so I better kill the bill."
Haley's national ambitions 1, the health of girls in South Carolina 0.