It was a couple of weeks ago when U.S. House leaders, responding to a recommendation from Congress' top physician, concluded that lawmakers and their aides should return to wearing masks as a result of the spreading Delta variant. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wasn't pleased.
But instead of the usual complaints, the House GOP leader concocted a strange conspiracy theory, publishing a tweet that the mask policy had been "conjured up by liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state."
Asked about McCarthy's odd ideas, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appeared to refer to the minority leader as "a moron."
It was against this backdrop that Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) sent reporters a related statement over the weekend, insisting that Democrats want "a permanent pandemic." Quoting herself from a radio appearance, the far-right Republican senator argued:
"The left likes lockdowns because it gives them control. They would like to have a permanent pandemic. They would like to keep you in that state so you're dependent on them."
Like McCarthy, the Tennessean did not appear to be kidding. Blackburn is one of the Republicans who genuinely seems to believe that liberals want the pandemic to continue indefinitely.
At this point, I suppose we could marvel at the right's penchant for conspiratorial thinking. Or we could ask why anyone, of any ideological stripe, would want a deadly pandemic to be "permanent." Or we could explore why Democrats, if they were so eager to create an indefinite public-health crisis, are so aggressive in promoting vaccines and related mitigation efforts.
We could even consider whether far-right politicians such as Blackburn have ever actually had a conversation with anyone on the left about progressive ideals and policy goals.
But for now, I'm inclined to put all of that aside and approach the senator's nonsense from a different perspective.
Perhaps the best way to respond to Blackburn's utterly bonkers assertions is to say she's onto something. Yes, those rascally liberals want a "permanent pandemic." It's all part of a dastardly, secret scheme -- which only the most insightful Republican conspiracy theorists have figured out -- to promote public dependence on big government.
If we were to concede that all of this blisteringly foolish rhetoric is accurate, would it encourage Blackburn and her ideological cohorts to start promoting vaccines to those on the right who still refuse to do the responsible thing?
It seems like an untapped public-relations opportunity: "Liberals want a permanent pandemic, so let's ruin their plans by getting vaccinated."
Since so much of contemporary Republican thought is dominated by "own the libs" attitudes, it seems quite plausible a message like this might work.