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Vaccinating Kids: Rand Paul v. Hillary

02/03/2015 08:22 pm ET | Updated Apr 05, 2015

Hillary and Rand Paul are now nose-to-nose on the theory and practice of childhood vaccinations. It's a classic example of how a grassroots political uproar finally reaches the political class. The decision of a significant number of parents not to vaccinate their kids bumped into a significant measles outbreak. The issue went from supper table conversation, to editorial outrage, and now has been embraced by the 2016 presidential contenders.

It's all in how you frame the issue. For Senator Paul, it's about "freedom." "While I think it's a good idea to take the vaccine, I think that's a personal decision for individuals." "The state doesn't own your children. Parents own the children."

For Hillary it's about respecting the science and not letting ideology get in the way. "The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and vaccines work. Let's protect all our kids. "Grandmothers Know Best" she tweeted.

This divide has ideological and political undercurrents. Tea Party/Libertarian doctrine focuses on the role of the state in deciding things that should be left to individuals. It has put Senator Paul in a variety of interesting positions on marijuana, abortion, Obamacare, and gun laws. And whether you share the movement view or not, it's a respectable perspective that often crosses ideological divides: Remember that the key argument against abortion restrictions is personal liberty and overweaning state interference in a woman's reproductive decisions.

Hillary moved swiftly and surely. She dismissed the medical concerns of the anti-vaccinators, and focused on the health of all children, with good science in her corner. We're in this together for all our kids. It Takes A Village, after all.

She staked out a political position that will help her in the general election. It's another example of the enormous advantage Hillary has in being the presumptive Democratic nominee, while Senator Paul struggles to secure the sometimes wacky Republican base voter. Hillary, the Sensible Grandmother; Rand Paul and others jumping through hoops to become the avatar of the RightyRights.

Again and again we will see the Republican contenders dragged down by their need to keep the base happy. Hillary's commentary will be replayed as other issues arise: It's about science and rational decision-making. On climate change, on evolution, on guns. And then on Obamacare, immigration and austerity economics. These people live in a fantasy world and can't be trusted, she'll say.

For the persuadable middle, this argument has weight. There's no quick reply for Republicans that will counter it, without angering the GOP primary voter. It will keep happening.

By the way, the scientific consensus on vaccinations is overwhelming. But there are examples of establishment medical pronouncements turning out to be wrong. So vaccinate your kids. Reps and Dems will fence about this issue and others. But a little skepticism about any medical issue, and a concern for defining when government can coerce and when not, these are good things too.