Joe McCarthy knew how to rile up the base. He knew his political hot buttons. He knew how to stoke fear and create a movement. He knew how to build a following by ratcheting up the rhetoric, the facts be damned.
Sadly, Rep. Michele Bachmann has followed in his mold: questioning the patriotism of members of Congress, fanning the flames of hatred of gays and lesbians and, now, attacking the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.
This HPV political maneuver may be her last. This should be her "have you no sense of decency" moment, just as the Army-McCarthy hearing was in the 1950s.
Somehow, the anti-vaccine movement has gained steam in the United States. Rumors that traditional vaccines caused autism began to spread. They were disproved but not before many parents declined to vaccinate their children.
A Science Times article in the New York Times ("Remark on Vaccine Could Ripple for Years") points to a three to four year drop in vaccination rates after such publicity. Diseases such as measles and whooping cough, supposedly under control, have seen outbreaks. According to the Times, "measles cases in the United States reached a 15-year high last spring. "
The HPV virus is, unfortunately, far too common. More than 25 percent of women 14 to 49 have been infected, 44 percent in the 20 to 24 age range. Not only can HPV cause cervical cancer but it can cause other cancers as well.
Last year only 32 percent of teenage girls had been given the vaccine.
If Michele Bachmann's scare tactics prove true to form, there will be a drop in the number of girls and women protected. By putting out false information, by repeating the statement of someone at the debate that the vaccine caused mental retardation, she set back the effort to save women's lives. Hardly a pro-life position.
In fact, the vaccine can prevent unnecessary surgery for several hundred thousand women a year and even allow women to successfully carry a pregnancy to term.
Over 35 million doses have been distributed without any serious side effects. Thank goodness doctors and clinics and reputable research organizations moved quickly to take on Michele Bachmann.
But, make no mistake, she even stayed on the issue in Thursday's debate. This woman won't quit, no matter the facts or the implications of her actions.
She sees a political opening and she takes it, she sees a chance to rile the base and she seizes it, she sees a good sound bite and off she goes.
If, in fact, the experts are correct and this will set back vaccinations for years, Bachmann will need to do more than apologize for her McCarthy-like tactics. As he ruined innocent lives, she may responsible for doing the same. She will have to look herself in the mirror and know that her actions led to more women losing their lives.