Kilgore on Perry’s social conservatism

Ed Kilgore has an article in The New Republic on Rick Perry’s prospects as a potential presidential candidate.  I tend to shy aware from political prognostication and analysis (preferring to leave that to my betters over at the main page and elsewhere), but there was one small point toward the end that bears mentioning because Kilgore gets something blatantly wrong.  Here’s the paragraph in question, with added emphasis:

On top of it all, persistent doubts about Perry’s competence (and in some quarters, honesty) have made him less than a political powerhouse in his home state of Texas, even as the state’s powerful Republican trend in the last decade, along with an energy-industry-boom, have given him enormous advantages. In 2006, for instance, he only won 39 percent of the general election vote in a peculiar, four-way gubernatorial race (with one independent candidate, the comedic musician and novelist Kinky Friedman, probably taking most of his double-digit-percentage vote from Perry’s Democratic opponent). In 2010, meanwhile, he won by solid margins against his primary challenger, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and his general election opponent, Houston Mayor Bill White—but this was right at the peak of the Tea Party uprising, which Perry very successfully exploited, and the fact remains that he was vulnerable enough to draw these legitimate challenges in the first place. His relationship with Texas Republicans, moreover, has always been somewhat shaky, as evidenced by the revolt of GOP legislators against a business tax plan Perry pushed through a few years ago, and his rumored frosty relations with his great benefactors, the Bush family. And even his friends in the social conservative wing of the Texas GOP were appalled by his 2007 proposal to require that every sixth-grade girl in Texas be vaccinated for the HPV virus.

For those of you unfamiliar with the HPV vaccine, it’s designed to prevent infection with the virus that causes warts.  In addition to warts, however, certain strains of the virus cause cervical cancer — the overwhelming majority of cases are related to one of a small number of strains.  The vaccines on the market confer protection against a couple of the strains most closely linked to cancer risk, as well as a couple of strains more associated with genital warts.

Kilgore’s phrasing implies that requiring vaccination was too socially conservative, a bridge too far even for Texas.  But that’s exactly wrong.  Social conservatives object to vaccination against HPV because (by their lights) potential for disease is a strong disincentive to have extramarital sex.  Make sex safer, the reasoning goes, and more kids will do it.  (The same argument applies for making contraception readily available to adolescents.)

Now, one might question the social conservatives’ attitudes toward HPV vaccination (I do, strongly) or whether the state of Texas should be mandating it (even a strong advocate for vaccination such as myself finds that policy too heavy-handed).  That’s not the point.  Perry’s proposal went contrary to the wishes of the state’s social conservatives, not to an excess of them.  His policy was one of preventive public health rather than moralistic sexual ideology.  If anything, I think Perry should be applauded for doing what he thought was right, even if it alienated a significant portion of his base.  I still wouldn’t vote for the guy, but not for the reason that Kilgore implies here.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. You actually beat me to it. I thought it went a step too far, but believed that there should be a minor penalty for not getting vaccinated (to help pay for someone else’s). Almost all the people I argued with were to my right. One anti-vaxer on the left, but mostly it was about Big Government Usurping Parenthood and, licensing sex along the way.

    It probably didn’t help that there were a lot of factually inaccurate memes that jumped out early on the right (it would only be effective in 12% of cases, HPV doesn’t cause cervical cancer but rather is merely linked to it, HPV and HSV are the same thing) fueled the fire.

  2. The inaccuracy might be more attributable to clumsy writing by Kilgore. I first read the offending passage to mean something like “Perry aroused the anger of even his social conservative base when he proposed mandatory HPV vaccines.”

    Of course, that’s not what Kilgore wrote. Perhaps I just made the leap in interpretation because I knew (or suspected) that social conservatives oppose hpv vaccination, for the reasons you cite.

  3. FYI- I deleted a piece of, in effect, spam here in the comments to this post from “John Lofton, Recovering Republican.” The comment he had left was precisely the same as one I remember someone with that moniker leaving at numerous sites (the LoOG included) about two years ago. I thought he had gone from the inter tubes, never to return, but apparently not. Let this be an advisory that any comment from someone with that handle may be deleted on sight.

Comments are closed.