On Tuesday's Rundown, Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy shared his perspective on whether parents should vaccinate their children. "For me, I want that to be my choice as a parent," the Republican congressman said, "and you know what? I know my kids best. I know what morals and values are right for my children and I think we should not have an oppressive state telling us what to do."
It's a fact of contemporary Republican politics: the party may dominate in Congress and state legislatures, but the GOP is also deeply divided on a variety of lines. Just recently, we've seen Republicans splinter on substantive issues and matters of strategy.
It seemed hard to predict, however, that vaccinations, of all things, would become the latest Republican rift.
Duffy, who's never been accused of being one of Congress' more knowledgeable policy wonks, is a lawyer and television personality by trade. When he says he knows his kids on a moral level, the Republican congressman isn't speaking with the authority of a medical professional.
Indeed, when the conservative Wisconsinite says he wants to be able to make "choice as a parent," my fear is he thinks it's partly up to him to help "choose" which communicable diseases make a comeback in the United States.
The confused congressman added, "I vaccinate my kids on most things, but then there are some things where I'm like, 'This may not work for me and my values and my family." The notion that some diseases -- but not others -- have potentially objectionable "values" is, I'll confess, a new one for me.
In case his perspective wasn't quite clear enough, Duffy went on to say, "I think a lot of parents who are smart, well-read -- they're the ones who are choosing not to vaccinate. And oftentimes, those who may not be as well-read -- they are vaccinating. So to say you just have a bunch of crackpots who are choosing not to do this to their children, I just don't think that's actually true."
Just so we're clear, Duffy wasn't kidding and he wasn't making these comments to make anti-vaccination activists appear foolish. The lawmaker actually seemed to believe what he was saying.
Of course, with a sudden outbreak of interest in the politics of vaccinations Duffy was hardly the only one speaking up on the issue. For every Republican making painfully foolish comments, there are other Republicans adopting a responsible line.
* Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) are both pro-vaccinations.
* So is House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
* Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) seems to think this is a state issue, though I don't think viruses acknowledge state lines.
Perhaps the most amusing reaction of them all came from Donald Trump, who said he's "totally pro-vaccine" and he also believe vaccines can cause "horrible autism." (In reality, there is literally zero evidence linking vaccines and autism. Why the strange reality-show host maintains both beliefs at the same time is unclear.)
I want to believe our political system is still capable of generating real debates, led by knowledgeable leaders, about important issues. But the fact that we're even having a conversation -- in the 21st century, in a global superpower -- about the merit of vaccinations, and there are high-profile Republican politicians questioning the value of protecting children from diseases, makes it just a little more difficult to have confidence in what our political system can do.
Below should be the video of Duffy's msnbc's appearance this morning, but if it doesn't load, click here.
Feb. 3, 201505:56