On “politicizing” the response to Covid

I often hear the claim that the response to the Covid-19 pandemic is being “politicized.” Almost always, this claim has been made by those who support authoritarian restrictions on people’s freedom to slow the spread of the virus. And now this claim is being made by those who support the authoritarian position of pressuring, requiring, mandating, and/or forcing people to get the Covid-19 vaccine.

According to Dictionary.com, political means “of, relating to, or involving the state or its government.”

Therefore, it seems to me that the question of what policies the government should adopt with regards to the virus (or any topic for that matter) is inherently a political question. Which rights people have, to what extent (if any) freedom should be sacrificed for safety, and what types of restrictions the government has the right to enact, are all political topics. When those who argue (correctly, in my opinion) that restrictions violate individual rights are told to “stop politicizing the virus,” they are essentially being told that the concept of individual rights should be ignored. Authoritarian-leaning people urge governments to adopt whatever policies are likely to produce the best public health outcomes, while ignoring the fact that the decision to prioritize public health outcomes over individual liberty is itself a political judgment. 

Accusing your opponents of politicizing an issue is a form of presuming the truth of what you are trying to prove. To equate caring about liberty and individual rights with “politicizing” an issue is to presume that liberty and individual rights do not matter. This is arrogant and intellectually dishonest, not to mention deeply wrong.

For the government to impose authoritarian measures such as stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, and vaccination requirements is inherently a political act. Given the definition of “political” that I cited above, one could actually argue that the people urging coercive state or governmental actions are those who are truly politicizing the virus. If either side is treating the virus as a non-political issue, it is the side that is advocating for the state to stay out and allow people to make their own decisions.