Mitt’s Bizarre Lyme Disease Offensive

Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty Images

The political world is in overdrive with excited speculation regarding what debate “zinger” Mitt Romney has prepared for President Obama Wednesday night. Perhaps he will nail the president on the still high unemployment rate or maybe dust off Reverend Wright. Or else what if he pulls a Rove counteroffensive and asks for release of 20 years of Obama tax returns. Or maybe, just maybe, he will zing the president on a white-hot issue dominating every waking moment for, um, some voters. In er, uh, northern Virginia. A few of them at least.

The issue? Lyme disease.

Yes, Lyme disease. While others are too weak to go there, Mitt is willing to roll up his sleeves and go after those ticks and deer and the entire damned reproductive cycle of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterial spirochete that causes the disease. He’s not afraid. But what about Obama? Is he for the ticks or is he—perhaps—soft on them, or worse yet, a tick sympathizer?

Surely there are reasons for the Romney camp to go so deep on something so shallow—a poll someone somewhere did that showed a little bump in Mitt-thusiasm around the issue from soccer Moms or NASCAR dads or exurb SUV'er Millennials, or maybe the coveted antibiotic-seeking vote. Or maybe he’s currying favor with Virginia’s governor, who set up a task force on the disease and appointed an influential conservative activist as its chair.

No matter what, this is the first time an infectious disease has intruded into politics since Reagan ran the other way from AIDS in 1984.

Two aspects of the Eastern Lyme Offensive are peculiar—and quite revealing. The obvious issue is the votes Mitt’s trying to grab by picking a theme close to the hearts of his fans. It’s not really better tick control or improved understanding of the disease that Mitt is after—it’s the disaffected group with “chronic Lyme disease” and the very large group of science refuseniks for whom scientific evidence is simply one of many belief systems not grounded in an agreed-upon reality but rather a person’s opinion only.

Chronic Lyme is a syndrome of uncertain etiology. Persons with the condition have a wide range of neurologic and other symptoms—and all feel ignored by the medical establishment. This is because doctors view the condition as unrelated to the Lyme bacteria; patients feel otherwise and swear that extremely long courses of intravenous antibiotics are the only treatment that allows them to function.

The chronic Lyme crowd, in other words, is much like the base of the party, which feels victimized by the governmental bureaucracy; it’s big medicine they hate and feel abandoned by this time, but the theme is the same. Doctors, like the government itself, are brusque and hurried. All they do is take your money and make you fill out lots of forms. When you call no one answers. They seem bothered and pestered by the very patients and citizens they are sworn to help. And worst of all, they want to talk about evidence and all that science stuff, pushing a feller around with muscular studies while ignoring the little guy. And for once, this is a little guy Mitt can cotton to, complete with sprawling house and blue-chip dog—to meet him, have another look at Mitt’s flier.

But more telling than this is the second prong of the Eastern Lyme Offensive. It appears that Mitt actually wants to do something about Lyme. And he wants to do it in the most basic big-government fashion possible: use the power of government to bring together patients, doctors, and business, as was done with AIDS and breast cancer and countless other diseases, in an attempt to make progress against a disease. He isn’t advocating that we should let market forces squeeze out whatever it must squeeze out—market forces being the only Darwinian concept acceptable to the anti-Darwin right. It turns out that his proposed Lymecare is nothing but a mini-Romneycare, the bastard child Romney fathered on a wild bender last decade while trapped in the vaporous Northeast.

The Eastern Lyme Strategy perhaps is politics at its most grasping and cynical. Yet it does point out how elemental health and health care are—for both citizens and those running for election. Yes, this is a laughable ad certain to bring more derision than electoral impact, but Mitt and Paul and the entire Republican brass band have finally shown their hand: apart from the distracting noise they create, they do believe that government is, gulp, here to help people. Now that’s a real zinger.