Have COVID-19 passports, also known as freedom-restricting movement licenses, become a left-right issue in today’s toxic political climate? Since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, conservatives and libertarians started sounding alarm bells about the government exploiting a public health crisis by creating vaccine passports to prove you have been jabbed so you can partake in civil society. Fast forward a year, the Democrat-controlled state of New York introduced its Excelsior Pass to grant citizens the right to participate in society. But a handful of Republican-led states have taken the opposite approach.
South Dakota Bans Vaccine Passports
Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD) signed an executive order banning “government instituted” vaccine passports in her state of South Dakota, calling them “un-American” restrictions of freedom. The move will prevent state agencies, boards, commissions, departments, and other executive branch entities from requiring “an individual to present a COVID-19 vaccine passport” to enter a government building or engage in a business partnership with the state. She announced in an Apr. 21 statement:
“Since the start of the COVID pandemic, we have provided South Dakotans with up-to-date science, facts, and data and then trusted them to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved-ones.
I encourage all South Dakotans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but we are not going to mandate any such activity. And we are not going to restrict freedom with un-American policies like vaccine passports.”
Noem is also asking the South Dakota Athletic Commission to revoke a rule that requires sports participants to offer evidence they have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
For anyone following South Dakota politics, this should not be surprising. As other states hunkered down in their bunkers and turned their cities into something out of The Omega Man, Gov. Noem kept The Mount Rushmore State open. She resisted placing everyone under house arrest, shuttering businesses, and imposing severe public health restrictions. In other words, life has been pretty normal, and the situation has not been bleak, with the seven-day death toll average peaking at 25 in December. It should come as no surprise that Noem is, once again, bucking the establishment – making her an enemy of the perpetual doomers that still believe lockdowns have been an effective strategy in the fight against the respiratory illness.
Remember MSNBC host Rachel Maddow’s condescension toward the South Dakota governor? “You are aware that it’s infectious, right? That it’s a communicable disease.”
The Mount Rushmore Republicans
South Dakota joins several other states that imposed similar bans on mandatory vaccine passports, including Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Texas, and Utah. Republican governors have repeatedly stated that the vaccine should be a voluntary and personal decision, not a government mandate. At the same time, these state leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), have emphasized the importance of getting jabbed with a Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, or Moderna vaccine.
That said, so far, only New York and Hawaii have launched vaccine passport programs. Who’s next?
GOP states are split on allowing private businesses to request their customers verify their vaccination status. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) signed an executive order that prevents companies from asking their patrons about their vaccines or post-transmission recovery. DeSantis, who has recently become an enemy of the Fourth Estate, argued that these mechanisms “would create two classes of citizens” and that prohibiting their use is “necessary to protect the fundamental rights and privacies of Floridians and the free flow of commerce within the state.”
Many organizations have already begun instituting vaccine requirements. Like Cornell and Rutgers, several universities have confirmed that they will mandate proof of vaccinations for students this fall. The Miami Heat became the first basketball team to establish “vaccinated only” sections. There is also a discussion within the airline industry of launching apps or websites for vaccine confirmation as part of efforts to rejuvenate the travel sector.
If there is a growing divide between states and the private sector, will Washington intervene? It is safe to aver that vaccine passports could become the next cultural clash, logistical debacle, and civil liberties nightmare. It appears – at least for now – that movement licenses will be left up to the states. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that President Joe Biden and his administration will not “be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” noting that “there will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”
The New and Improved Republican Party?
It has taken the Republican Party years to deodorize the foul stench of former President George W. Bush’s merry band of neoconservatives. The GOP still has its fair share of big government acolytes, but the new brand of Republican appears to be more freedom-oriented on a broad array of issues, from the war on drugs to the forever conflicts abroad to the surveillance state. If this were 2003 and a pandemic had swept through the land of the free, it would be challenging to dispute the possibility that the Bush-led GOP would favor a statist “papers, please” system as it did with the Patriot Act. The post-9/11 neoconservatives are a dying breed, and the GOP is likely paving the way for the likes of Noem, DeSantis, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and other “America First” Republicans to lead the party for the next decade to come.
Read more from Andrew Moran.