You might be familiar with the old saying, “politics makes strange bedfellows.”
It means, in the world of all things political, unlikely and unintended alliances sometimes form. And the improbable allies would probably never admit what they have in common with their usual opponent.
Something similar has happened with COVID and the various opinions about the vaccine and mask-wearing (which, like it or not, is also a political issue.)
“My body, my choice,” you might hear from someone who refuses to get the vaccine and/or wear a mask, a person who would probably never align with a pro-choice advocate who would make the same argument in a discussion about abortion.
But the principle is the same, that of “don’t tell me what I can and can’t do with my body,” whether it’s injecting something into it or giving – or not giving -- birth. Strange bedfellows, indeed.
It’s also happening with laws and regulations enacted around COVID.
In September, President Biden announced sweeping mandates requiring vaccines for federal employees and government contractors.
He also ordered that the Department of Labor, through its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), draft a regulation under which companies with 100 or more employees would require the vaccine or produce weekly negative testing results for the unvaccinated, with hefty penalties for non-compliance.
I wrote about this in a previous piece, attempting to explain how it could possibly play out. As you might imagine, it’s complicated. Full details were released only a few days ago.
It appears both mandates will take effect Jan. 4, assuming legal challenges do not result in some type of delay in implementation.
Opponents of both Biden mandates see them as government overreaching. For the one requiring private companies to impose mandates, there are cries of constitutional violations. There are also questions as to whether exposure to a respiratory condition would be a true occupational hazard in a place of business (outside the health care sector), which is what OSHA has had to build its regulation around.
Here in Tennessee, our esteemed legislature called itself into special session to enact laws restricting mandates, supposedly protecting individual freedoms by rolling back COVID restrictions.
Governor Lee, who has taken the approach of letting local governments make their own decisions regarding such, now has the legislation on his desk, awaiting his signature.
He can either sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature. Political experts believe he will sign it. It seems to be the most politically expedient action for him to take, given that it’s his GOP brethren who called the special session resulting in the new laws.
Be that as it may, the business community has not responded favorably. Lee, of course, a businessperson-turned-politician, has strong connections in that camp, so finds himself in a bit of a dilemma.
Businesspeople across the state have spoken out.
In a letter to state leaders in advance of the legislation being passed, representatives from the healthcare sector, government contractors, the auto industry and retailers called it “unnecessary government intrusion.”
And although some exemptions were carved out for businesses, many leaders are still upset at the legislature’s seeming desire to control their response to the pandemic. One provision that stayed in place allows workers who quit their jobs due to vaccine mandates to collect unemployment benefits.
If all of this seems a little ironic, you would be on point.
President Biden’s September announcement was made with the knowledge it would be popular among his Democratic allies. Playing to his base, he said he had lost patience with those who refuse to do their part by getting the vaccine, and he was acting accordingly.
The Tennessee legislature, controlled by the GOP, pushed through laws they believed would be popular with their supposed mandate-opposing base -- those who have lost patience with being told to get a shot or wear a mask.
In so doing, even with some of the carve-outs, they alienated a large segment of the business community that believes company leaders have the right to run their businesses as they see fit. (Not to mention how the state legislation could conflict with the federal.)
That would be much like the opponents of the OSHA regulation who don’t want the government telling them they must impose such mandates.
Did I mention that thing about strange bedfellows?
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].