Why are people on the far right ‘pro virus’? The question came up on Quora, the social question and answer website. Despite its faulty premise, it sounded sincere.

I had an epiphany while thinking about whether to answer that question: Accusing the far right of being “pro virus” is every  bit as telling as accusing North Carolina’s lieutenant governor of being “homophobic” or “bigoted.” The accusations come out of left field, you might say, and share a common flaw because, like many such criticisms, they assume facts not in evidence.

“Phobia” used to mean an irrational fear, but progressive activists now lob its adjectival form at anyone who disagrees with their version of conventional wisdom. Dismissing ideological opponents as phobic means progressives don’t have to defend what they think is self-evident, because, after all, who argues with crazy people? Old-school debate protocol scorned ad hominem as a weak form of argument, but nowadays attacks on character and motivation are distressingly common.

Consider, for example, a recent WRAL story about Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson. The headline was appropriately factual, despite its use of scare quotes where you arguably don’t need any: “Lt. Gov. Robinson wants ‘sexually explicit’ LGBTQ-themed books removed from NC schools.” That’s about as objective a phrasing as any news consumer has a right to expect from honest journalists.

But the uniform resource locator (URL, commonly known as a web address) for the same story was rife with sneaky judgment: If you want to know where WRAL’s sympathies lie, all you have to do is parse the string of characters in the search bar on your browser.

The same kind of presumption applies in other conversations about public policy, which is why progressive questions about Wuhan Coronavirus policy and reaction to it are posed with something akin to disbelief. What Quora guy really wanted to know was why the right takes a dim view of things like “vaccine passports” and “mask mandates,” because he sounds genuinely puzzled, he deserves an answer. But before we go merrily down the rabbit hole, it’s worth noting that people who don’t identify themselves as far right” have many of the same reservations about virus-fighting policy (Eric Clapton and Van Morrison aren’t right-wing loons, and neither is Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving).

Even medical opinion is not monolithic, although you might not know that if you marinate exclusively in the “case counts” tracked by local newsrooms. Ever hear of the Great Barrington Declaration? Over 4,000 doctors signed that document, urging an end to COVID-19 restrictions. Sadly, it never got the political traction or publicity that it should have.

Here’s one attempt at a comprehensive explanation for the concern that some people misread as “cheering for the virus”:

  • “Mask mandates” from any administration in Washington, D.C. violate the principle of federalism. “Pro-freedom” does not mean “pro-virus,” and Orwellian attempts to paint people who reject mandates as “anti-vaccination” are wrongheaded.
  • If you got the COVID-19 vaccine jab in the USA early in 2021, then you were told for legal reasons that it was being given to you under an “emergency use authorization.” That means the vaccine was experimental. And guess what? Vaccine manufacturers are immune from liability law in the United States. Forcing everyone to be part of an experiment, and censoring opposition to that policy is the sort of overreach that strikes a lot of people as anti-democratic, because it is.
  • Trust remains an issue in any debate over pandemic policy, especially because virus response was politicized early by unelected bureaucrats and their allies in the media and Big Pharma. Even at the state level, the medical establishment hasn’t fared well. Ask yourself, for example, why early outpatient treatment options used successfully against COVID-19 in Japan and India still get the cold shoulder from policymakers in the United States. Or ask yourself why “Fifteen days to slow the spread,” once a justification for lockdown policy, eventually became a punch line.
  • Many policymakers claim to “follow the science,” but every scientific experiment needs a control group so that researchers can study contrasts in outcomes. Some people who refuse vaccination do so because they’ve already overcome COVID-19 and have natural antibodies in their system. Others have perhaps chosen to be part of the “control group” that every valid experiment needs. But for this act of what might be called community service, many of the unvaccinated — even among pilots, doctors, and U.S. Navy SEAL teams! — are now having their livelihoods threatened. “Bodily autonomy” doesn’t seem to mean much anymore.
  • Back when the Trump Administration dreamt up “Operation Warp Speed” as an initial public response to COVID-19 in the United States, it was an unprecedented public/private partnership, but more than a few high-profile people announced that they wouldn’t trust a so-called “Trump vaccine.” Now Trump is history, but many of the same people have changed their tune: They want everybody vaccinated, and nobody calling them out on their past behavior or statements. This strikes more than a few of us as deeply hypocritical. In that respect, it’s not unlike noticing that some politicians don’t like it when other politicians stand up for the educational or parental rights of their constituents.
  • Nobody knows what the long-term effects of the COVID-19 vaccines are, because they’re so new. And you can’t argue that there’s precedent in public policy by saying children have to get MMR (measles – mumps – rubella) shots before being admitted to public schools, because mandates for MMR came along anywhere from 6 to 16 years after the vaccines for those diseases were developed. See the difference?
  • Maybe your neighbor isn’t “anti-mask.” Maybe she’s “pro-face.” Or as actress Candace Cameron Burre and others have put it, “pro medical freedom.” And maybe she’s read enough to know that no mask short of the N95 medical-grade filters out aerosolized virus particles. That cloth face-covering encouraged by so many businesses amounts to little more than “security theater.”
  • If a U.S. state with few or no COVID-19-related restrictions suffers from fewer COVID deaths per capita than another state where the governor tells people to not leave their houses, does that mean that the first state is “pro-virus” and the second state is “anti-virus”? Of course not. What it means is that the two administrations have weighed considerations of means and ends differently. Some people are adept at risk assessment. Other people aren’t, and so they’re fine with “mission creep,” which is why even businesses that have nothing to do with public safety proudly declare that their first priority is my safety (rather than my groceries, my tires, my plumbing fixtures, or whatever good they’re actually in business to provide).
  • Lastly, there’s a turnabout-is-fair-play question lurking in the weeds here: Are you sure it’s the right that’s “pro-virus”? Bill Gates once floated the idea that the silver lining to a pandemic might be its usefulness in reducing “overpopulation.” Other progressives agree with him. And the deeply suspect “gain of function” research that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was doing with U.S. tax dollars was championed by bureaucrats like Dr. Anthony Fauci, who claims to be nonpartisan, but doesn’t act that way. As of this writing, Fauci is the highest-paid employee in the federal government, simply because he’s been there so long. I don’t begrudge the man for time on station, but he hasn’t treated actual patients in decades. That’s an issue because civil service isn’t known for accountability. Moreover, things like bedside manner and empathy don’t seem to matter much when you’re hugely influential and pulling down more than 417 big ones annually.

Is it wrong to point all this out? Hardly. However you define the political right, it’s not on team virus. It’s on team prudence.

And if you trust WRAL or the News & Observer for an honest account of what motivates Robinson, then you’re bound to be surprised when you actually listen to him speak.

Patrick O’Hannigan is a Carolina Journal contributor, a father of two, and a technical writer and editor. He resides in Morrisville, North Carolina.