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Monday, October 24, 2016

“Unbelievably sad.”

That was the subject line of an email a colleague sent me last week. In it, she forwarded a link to a story that had Iowa Republican senator Joni Ernst telling a Des Moines radio host that Congress should outlaw vaccines because they “manipulate brains.”

According to the story, the host asked Ernst to clarify, whereupon the conservative freshman explained that when they were children, she had a friend who was vaccinated, while she herself never was because her family couldn’t afford it.

The story quotes Ernst as saying, “Now, we grew up in the same town, went to the same schools, attended the same church, we even served in the military together. We’re practically the same, right? But he’s a liberal Democrat. He voted for Obama both times and he has a Hillary Clinton sticker on his pickup truck. He supports welfare and the gays. I’m not saying the vaccinations made him more liberal, but the vaccinations made him more liberal, do you get what I’m saying?”

I read this and sent my colleague the following reply: “This simply HAS to be a joke.”

And it was. It turned out the story originated on National Report, a website that bills itself as “America’s number one Independent News Source,” which it is not. Actually, National Report specializes in hoaxes. Indeed, as this is written, one of its headlines reads: “Car Owners Baffled as More Tampons Are Found in Mazda 6 Engines.”

A number of observers, including a handful of reporters, fell for the hoax, tweeting it to their followers as fact. As near as I can tell, the senator didn’t even bother issuing a rebuttal.

All of which paints an unflattering picture of who and what we are halfway through the second decade of the 21st century. The idea that vaccines affect ideology — “manipulate brains” — is so staggeringly stupid, you’d like to think no one, no sentient adult, much less a United States senator, could ever say or believe it.

Then you consider the kinds of things people do routinely say and believe in this country and it becomes hard to be sanguine. Didn’t a talk show host say the federal government is gearing up for a war against white people? Didn’t a senatorial candidate say a woman’s body can protect itself from pregnancy in cases of rape? Didn’t bloggers say Chief Justice John Roberts has ordered President Obama’s arrest for treason? Didn’t a PAC accuse the president of a plan to help gay parents buy babies?

It’s a litany of the ridiculous that provides a certain context for the thing Senator Ernst did not say — and explains why some of us were so ready to believe that she did.

That belief is hardly a leap in a nation where many politicians, particularly on the right, have abandoned the vast middle ground of American political thought, preferring to seek votes with simple and simple-minded appeals to the prejudices and fears of those on the fringes instead. Moreover, it’s hardly a leap in a nation where media often function as their unwitting henchmen, drawn like ants to sugar to the loudest voices and sharpest conflict — and away from that which is nuanced or thoughtful.

Small wonder this country has become home to so much intellectual backwardness and ideological rigidity. And that the line between the real and the ridiculous now blurs to such a degree that it’s sometimes difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.

In such a world, the idea that Joni Ernst thinks vaccines give you liberalism becomes, at a minimum, plausible. Which is a sad reflection on us.

“This HAS to be a joke,” I wrote. But you know what?

I sounded a lot more certain than I was.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at [email protected]

Photo: Monica de Argentina via Flickr

This column has been updated for clarity.

  • Dominick Vila

    In the age of the Kardashians anything is possible.

    • FireBaron

      Wait, Dominick, you mean Kim Kardashian really said that?

      Yeah, you know I am joking, as do most of the other commentators on this page. The scary thing is someone could post on another site that KK tweeted (Is she really intelligent enough to know how to do her own tweets or do her people – hand picked by her mother – take care of that for her?) that Joni Ernst said… and a whole new hoax would start.

      • hicusdicus

        The belief that we have a viable government is a hoax.

    • hicusdicus

      We are in full agreement on that comment.

  • Guest

    I was hoping that this was a joke. But I guess I am wrong. Iowa got what they deserve but I shouldn’t talk to loud el annoys new governor is an idiot toiowa got what they deserve but I shouldn’t talk to loud Illinois new governor is an idiot too.

    • Kansan

      This is gibberish. You can edit it.

      • FireBaron

        You got that!

  • patriotjake

    My tax guy explained to me how the POTUS was the anti-Christ because of his name.

    • Dominick Vila

      Consider electronic filing…

  • Jeffrey Mac

    Joanie didn’t say that, it was Michelle Bachmann…..

  • Kansan

    Good commentary, but bad headline.

  • adler56

    Given her history it was easy to believe. There’s seems to be no end to these loons on the right.

    • hicusdicus

      Loons on the right and DoDo’s on he left

  • Jambi

    Mr. Pitts – you’re right!…it was a joke…SHE is a joke!…The “SIMPS” that read this silly propaganda are a joke!,,,The far-RIGHT is a joke!…tampons are not clogging up the political engine..Wing-nut Clowns are clogging up democracy!

  • charleo1

    When taken in the current environment, the, “news,” that Joni Ernst might have claimed such a thing doesn’t seem that outlandish at all. No more so than Dr. Ben Carson, an African American neurosurgeon, claiming ACA, the healthcare reform law, was worse than the institution of slavery. Or, to have that assertion trumpeted for weeks by some of the most respected Senators, and Journalists in the Conservative Right, that the evil Liberals were secretly tucking death panel legislation deep inside the impossibly enormous bill. Or, the, “Truther Movement,” propagated by former Governor Jessie Ventura. That the 9/11 attacks were instigated by our shadowy, CIA? As was the Kennedy assassination supposedly the product of none other than a bitter Lyndon B. Johnson. Or what the drug companies don’t want you to know. And personally on that, I believe there is a lot the drug companies don’t want anyone to know. Did you know by the way, the NSA is watching you right now, thru the camera in your computer? You’ll tape that over, if you’re smart. For more real nuttery, or nutty proposed legislation, that is real, see link below.

    • hicusdicus

      That thing about Lyndon Johnson may have a certain element of truth in it. But not the way one might think.

  • FT66

    If you think Michelle Buchmann has gone, there you get Joni Ernest as a replacement. I was stunned at the first time I heard her saying she is going to Washington to castrate pigs as she did in Iowa. Are there any pig in Washington? Be afraid those who are there!

    • johninPCFL

      Her actual quote was that she castrated hogs so would be adept at CUTTING PORK, as in overspending.
      But the reaction to this hoax (mostly belief) speaks to the message she was elected running on.

  • rvn_sgt6768

    What military was she in that did not vaccinate her? She is so full of BS her eyes are brown and the rest of her head is full of toilet paper. You can not be in the military without a full medical exam and vaccinations period. You can not deploy anywhere with out many shots like plague and whatever else the country you may go to has for diseases that there are vaccinations for. Without shots as a child she could not be allowed to go to school in Iowa either. Nothing but lies from her lips.

    • You’ve missed the point of this article.
      It was a hoax.

      • Allan Richardson

        But it IS THE KIND OF THING she WOULD say! If she served in the military, the vaccines they gave her may have “manipulated” her memory to forget they gave her any, AND to make her conservative, right?

        As my favorite cartoon lagomorph would say:

        “What a maroon!”

        • Your response tells the world more about you than about her.
          And THAT was the point of the article.

          • Sand_Cat

            [Edit] I do agree people should read the article before commenting [ End-Edit]

            No, I think YOU missed the point of the article: it was precisely that this hoax was quite plausible because some of the people elected by American voters have actually said things just as stupid and delusional. One need not look further than some of those trolling here.

          • hicusdicus

            If you would just take off your hat everybody could see the point

          • Sand_Cat

            Why should I disappoint everyone by showing them there’s actually no point?

          • hicusdicus

            I knew from the first time I read one of your comments that there was no point.

        • LotusJoan

          She may be a moron, based on credible sources some of her previous statements indicate she is a Luddite. However neither her mental capacity or veracity can be inferred from something that she did not say.

    • flyinjs

      Exactly what I was thinking of. Seems she thinks that you must a liberal to give up your choice of making sure that all children are vaccinated so the rest of the country can be safe

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    First of all, I personally have NO desire to be numbered in that “WE” who believe Joni Ernst. When I compare her to the stellar, accomplished women I’ve worked for and have associated with, this Ernst GOP Come Get Me Girl can’t lick their boots.

    Joni Ernst is yet another of the Tea Party mavens hoping against hope to some day in the far off vast Dark Hole of Space be equal to a GOP bull. Fat chance. Like her other dipshit GOP Come Get Me Girls, Palin, Bachmannistan, Murkowski, Haley, Coulter and Malkin, these are not women who do more than parrot what they are told to.

    They spend more time blasting and bitching than they do actually working for the salaries they earn.

    Ernst, like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and the recycled Huckabee, are living in the grand mal austerity of the Great Depression..with one little dirty secret…they impose it on everyone but themselves.Their states take, take, take, take and then bitch when they bankrupt other states.

    When you get sick of the phony baloney GOP attempts at ramming their failed ideology down your throats, you’ll find that it was a veiled effort to force us to wave the white flag of surrender. In a pig’s eye!

    • jointerjohn

      The GOP always was a men’s club, but today more than ever. Strong, smart, independent women scare them to death. The reason they are so enamored with Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Joni Ernst and the like is that just like in every other respect these little boys in their tree house club prefer to reject reality. They don’t want climate change to be the result of overuse of fossil fuel, therefore they deny it. They don’t want the U.S. to continue to be a country that welcomes immigrants when those immigrants are brown colored, therefore they close the border with the brown people. They want trickle-down economics to be the cover story for their pandering to the rich, therefore they deny the clear fact that it is a failure.
      They want women to all be cute funny little house pets so they elevate the Bachmanns and the Ernsts to the public stage hoping to make their ultimate dream come true, that tough savvy women will be rejected and reviled as being, in the words of Rush Limbaugh, “feminazis”.

      • Eleanore Whitaker

        I was a Republican woman for 33 years. I can’t tell you how often I heard that BS GOP male ego buster, “Take it or leave it.” So..I called their bluff…I left “it” and their party.

        The idea that comes out of the back room of the GOP is this: It’s a military strategy that creates Tokyo Rose style broadcasts that make it sound to the least educated and most impressionable that there is no point in fighting off the GOP because “They already won.” That’s their male ego on steroids.

        • jointerjohn

          If, as appears likely right now, the GOP faces a female opponent for President in 2016, they will wage the most vile and hateful campaign yet. Independent women of America stay tuned, you will get to see what they really think of you, in vivid color.

          • Eleanore Whitaker

            Though I’m not certain Hillary will chose to run, Elizabeth Warren, Linda Sanchez and a host of other prominent Congressional women would easily win.

            The problem with GOP men is how they view accomplished, education American women. In their view, Sarah Palin is accomplished because she makes babies she dumps off on others to care for while she plays GOP puppet. Not a single one of the GOP women, with the exception of Wendy Davis, are in any way representative of today’s young, educated, financially independent women.

            That is the key to what makes the GOP men so hideously out of touch…That women do not need any man’s income. In fact, with nearly 90% of all American women working outside the home today and of that more than 60% are hired more often than men, it shows exactly the directly the GOP wants for women…pregnant and barefoot.

            Now really, what woman who has a PhD, a high level job and earns as much as most men in corporations do, will return to Neanderthal caves? Not going to happen.

          • hicusdicus

            All these attributes you heap upon women are minor when it comes down to being a good and loving mother.

          • Eleanore Whitaker

            I see…so in your typical male view, women need only open their legs and pop out children to satisfy your male obsession with procreating that which you will NEVER fully be responsible for?

            Joni Ernst is no better than her predecessor Phyllis Schafly, the Mother of Mothers of the Century.

            So, if I undersand you, Palin left her mentally retarded child, Trigg, while she was so busy mothering from the campaign trail? So busy that her daughter had a child out of wedlock to a kid who had as much parental responsibility and fathering skills as you do?

            In case you missed it, male sperm is not the be all and end of women’s existence on planet Earth. You guys love to spread that sperm like farmers over millions of acres. And, there is where it ends for you.

            As President Obama so eloquently stated in his SOTU address in 2012, “You aren’t a man because you can create a child. You are man when you can stick around for the next 18 years and RAISE that child.”

            That explains why your kind hate this president. He won’t let you guys play your “boys will be boys” routines.

          • dpaano

            You can be a good and loving mother and STILL work. With today’s economy, it’s imperative that both the mother and the father have to work outside the home. And, besides, why aren’t you saying that a father can’t be a good and loving father if he works outside the home. You make NO sense whatsoever

          • hicusdicus

            What in the world are you talking about? The most important thing in a MOTHERS life is to be a good loving mother. That does not make sense to you?

          • dpaano

            I’ve always said that when God made man, he realized that he need to make woman because, without women, who would continually clean up after man and bear his children, etc., etc., etc.!!!! We’ve been taking care of man ever since!

          • Eleanore Whitaker

            Remember that wonderful Russian writer, Boris Pasternak? He once was quoted as saying, “To be a woman is a great adventure. To drive men mad is a heroic thing.”

            Did you happen to catch Hillary Clinton on the Emily’s List 25th anniversary celebration? Wow…if ever there was proof that women definitely do things differently than me, Hillary and several of the other women guests proved that.

            Just listening to them speak made everything sound so much less hopeless. One thing is certain, there are going to be a whole lot of men going through gender culture shock if a woman becomes president in 2016.

            The only consolation is that they’ve already knocked themselves silly trying to override this current president they all so hate that there won’t be much energy left in these old gas bags to generate enough power to pass their own gas.

          • dpaano

            I certainly agree, and I plan on watching it happen!!! They’re doing nothing but turning the American people against them, and I hope they continue to dig that hole deeper!

          • Eleanore Whitaker

            Pasternak also wrote: There are two kinds of men and only two. And that young man is one kind. He is high-minded. He is pure. He’s the kind of man the world pretends to look up to, and in fact despises.”

            Pasternak could have been describing President Obama for all the loathing the GOP has heaped on him.

        • hicusdicus

          You are fabricating again you may have been Republican for 33 years but you were never a woman. When they asked you to open your legs and saw what was there they threw you out. A cameltoe with gonads was more than they could handle.

          • Louis Allen

            You did it again !!
            You put my ex-wife, Crazy Cow Eleanore, in her place.
            She has become a complete nincompoop since I left her ….. and she has developed a BIG cameltoe replacing her (erstwhile) brain ….
            RMAOTFL !!!

          • hicusdicus

            Has she always been like this? Has she always spit out her thoughts with out thinking about what she is saying? This is like Abbot and Costello on crack.

          • Louis Allen

            “Like Abbot and Costello on crack” !! THAT, hicus, really “cracked” me up !!
            Your sense of humor is exquisite, to say the least; but then again, that is not a completely fair statement if our frame of reference is Lenore’s (non-existent) sense of humor !!
            LOL !!!

          • highpckts

            Could you be any more disgusting and degrading? I think not!

          • hicusdicus

            Hey, Give me time I will do better. EW is a great source of material. You do know she started all this including spreading her legs for Republican men.Have you read her comments to me? I think she has a crush on me.

          • highpckts

            I do wish you would use your time more constructively! Spewing all your filthy language and hate on this board is pure self destruction.

          • hicusdicus

            Cut the crap highpckts. My language is not filthy and hate filled. You are nothing more than a liberal feminist bigot. I do not knowingly use school yard language or foul four letter words unless repeating what someone has already posted EW is the most foul mouthed person I have ever encountered on a blog. If you have not seen this than you need an eye exam and your mouth washed out with soap. What you wish for has no interest to me and I doubt to any one else with a IQ above the Mutt and Jeff level.

          • Lynda Groom

            You are such a class act and obviously so mature.

          • hicusdicus

            Thank you . I just knew one day you would see the light even though you were concocted from just a single rib.

      • Louis Allen

        I thought Lenore Whittaker (her real name) was the most inane half-wit in this cesspool of leftist/liberal loonies, ….. but I was WRONG !!
        LOL !!

        • jointerjohn

          That is correct. You were totally wrong. Big of you to admit it.

          • Louis Allen

            Good one !
            (I guess I set myself up for that one, jointer!)

    • hicusdicus

      OMG you speak so eloquently It brings tears to my nose, a giant nibbley and a race to the throne room.

  • adp3d

    A Librul vaccine huh? That is too funny. We should find a way to put it in our nations drinking water…no wait, that’s another conspiracy…

  • Lynda Groom

    Thank you to the voters for extending life of the rambling wreck of the Tea Party within our Congress. If that women really said that her childhood acquaintance became ‘liberal’ due to vaccine she proven she’s incapable of critical thinking. We’ve already got to many such weak minded types in the Congress without adding yet another. No wonder nothing gets done with such simple minded thinkers.

    • hicusdicus

      You should run you would blend in just fine.

      • Lynda Groom

        Why thank you for the vote of confidence. However, my local Tea Party won’t have me. LMFAO!

        • hicusdicus

          You are drinking the wrong kind of tea.

          • Lynda Groom

            Never touch the stuff, for I want to retain my precious bodily fluids. Besides their brand of tea is weak and ill prepared.

          • hicusdicus

            I grow my own tea it seems to work real well. I have yet to find someone who does not like it

  • Bill


    • joe schmo

      When we put people like Reidtard and Peloser in office, and if we want to go one step further, Obummer, what idiocy does that tell us about ourselves? That we are idiots for voting him in the second time around. Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.

      • Bill

        Those aren’t the people I was talking about, but then you knew that.

      • Wellis1947

        Joe, it tells us that we get either idiots who DON’T know who the important people are in Washington D.C., or idiots who think that making up insulting names (like my boys used to do when they were 8 years old)is an effective counterargument to anything they don’t agree with!

  • Irishgrammy

    What is obviously and frankly insane, and pathetically depressing, is simple deductive reasoning has apparently been abandoned with this ridiculous “rumor”…..not that Joni Ernst possibly saying something this stupid would be surprising! When I first started reading this story, it read as quite un-surprising knowing other stupid comments Ernst has actually said on and off camera!!!. However, this ridiculous story would or SHOULD lead anyone with just 1/2 a brain to deduce that most people have been vaccinated in this country and there ARE all kinds of political persuasions, Liberals, Conservatives, Tea Partiers, Libertarians, Green Party, Communists, you name it, there’s a political party for it, that have ALL their vaccinations…….ergo……..WHY, HOW would masses of vaccinated people be a “cause” for anyone to become solely “Liberal”, which…. if using deductive reasoning again, would mean there would be millions and millions of Liberals out there, and little else! Hells Bells, there would be no need for elections ever again, there would not be any opposition except for a handful of un-vaccinated people ranting from the peanut gallery, hummmmmm….. ………………I mean really, are we becoming the nation of utterly, and completely stupid….

    • highpckts


    • hicusdicus

      What you mean becoming?

    • joe schmo

      …..And that’s just the point isn’t it, no more elections? We are becoming a nation completely and utterly stupid.

  • Leabrand

    Are you SURE this was a hoax ?

  • And the reason the hoax is perpetuating, plain and simple, is because Ernst is not doing jack crap to try and put it to rest. It’s almost like she herself has been fooled into believing she said that.

    It’s the same thing that happened with Sarah Palin and “I can see Russia from my house.” No, Palin herself never said that. . . At first. But instead of addressing the stupidity, she took it and ran with it — chose to act as if she HAD said that when she actually did not.

    Ernst is doing the exact same thing, and has apparently come to the conclusion that being depicted as a wingnut anti-government conspiracy theorist is to her advantage somehow.

    • joe schmo

      I guess this is the same form of fear tactic exemplified by the Left. The fact that DHS believes our biggest fear is right-extremist terror. LOL. I guess that includes 3/4 of the United States. Boy are you people in Left field, literally. I suppose the last election didn’t signify a thing, and you are making light of it. So what are you afraid of? That we will go back to being proud strong, patriotic, capitalistic individualists who want nothing better than to live the American dream?

      • Wellis1947

        Joe – the last election signified what ALL mid-term elections signify – that there are a whole lot of lazy voters out there who don’t care about who gets elected to obscure state posts so don’t turn out to vote! What was it in 2014 – 38-40% of the eligible voters? You have to look to the National Election years for a closer approximation of national voter sentiment.

  • john pehrson

    Is there any truth to the rumor that Joni Ernst had an affair with her now husband, Gail, while he was a superior officer for ROTC at ISU, and that Gail left his wife and children to marry her?

  • RobertCHastings

    Every such hoax has a shred of the truth, and for someone like Ernst, who is NOT that different from Michelle Bachman, she is quite capable of this.

  • Daniel Jones

    The fact is that fact, itself, is being undermined and devalued.
    I would posit that Brian Williams would never have gotten himself in trouble had the culture of hogwash not made his insipid tale seem palatable.

    • hicusdicus

      Fantastic comment, The culture of hog wash. At the rate it is being produced we will soon run out of hogs.

      • GraceAdams830

        You don’t have to kill a hog to get hog wash. Just encourage the hog to roll in a mud puddle; then wash the hog–and there is your hog wash.

        • hicusdicus

          I will go along with that, An infinite supply of hog wash. That should make the political people happy.

  • dpaano

    Again…the conservative base reacts to lies and scare tactics….that’s the only way the
    GOP can win anything.

  • R Michael Maddox

    This is exactly why I tell people to check the facts before passing judgment. I would have believed she said such a thing, cause she has said some really “OUT THERE” stuff. “Believe nothing you read and less of what you see on “FOX”!

  • Five Guyz

    At least most Americans are finally starting to recognize that Obama is a menace.