Washing our hands of Thom Tillis

Earlier this month, Senator Thom Tillis opened his mouth, inserted his foot, and made North Carolina into a laughingstock. Speaking to the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington D.C., Tillis suggested that restaurant owners shouldn’t be forced by the government to make their employees wash their hands after a visit to the bathroom. Usually when a politician says something monumentally moronic, his handlers have him do damage control the next day. Not Tillis. Instead, he defended his remarks, and even added, “…let those who are regulated decide whether or not it makes sense.” And what was the senator’s solution for preventing the spread of disease?

According to The, Tillis recommended restaurant owners just post a sign, notifying customers that, “We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom”. “The market”, said Tillis, “will take care of that.” Medical professionals disagree.

On its website, the CDC refers to hand washing as a “Do It Yourself vaccine”, which can prevent the spread of everything from hepatitis, to dysentery and salmonella, all of which can result when food is contaminated with fecal matter. Hand washing also prevents the spread of flu, which, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, has claimed 170 lives in the Tarheel state during this season’s epidemic.

Tillis, by the way, was not the only politician who said something stupid about health-related issues over the past few weeks. In light of recent measles outbreaks, Presidential hopefuls Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, both weighed in on the growing controversy over vaccinations.

The Washington Post reported that Christie said parents, “need to have some measure of choice”, while Sen. Paul told talk show host Laura Ingraham, “While I think it’s a good idea to take the vaccine, I think that’s a personal decision for individuals.”

Unfortunately the utterances of stupid, absurd, and unfounded statements by elected officials is not a new phenomena.

For example, reports that in January of 2005, former Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann said, “If we took away the minimum wage…we could virtually wipe out unemployment completely, because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level.” Chuckle if you will, but to this day, Congress has refused to pass legislation establishing a livable minimum wage for hourly employees.

Speaking of employment, the Daily Kos reports that in 2013, then powerful Congressman Eric Cantor proposed a ban on paid overtime for hourly workers. And, two years earlier, Wisconsin Congressman Glenn Grothman introduced legislation that would have allowed employers to work their employees seven days a week, with no day off. Then there was Utah Senator Mike Lee who once proposed the elimination of child labor laws.

Politicians also engage in dangerous rhetoric about social issues. still posts the famous 1992 quote from Arkansas Representative Jay Dickey, Jr. who, when referring to how rape inside of a family is not really rape, said, “Incest can be handled as a family matter within the family.” Twenty years later, Dickey’s stupidity was matched by that of Missouri Congressman Todd Aiken who said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.”

What’s really frightening about uninformed statements made by elected officials, is that those stupid remarks can help to form public policy. Just imagine the spread of deadly disease that would result if Senator Tillis’s anti hand washing stance took root. And how many lives would be lost from preventable disease if rhetoric by Christie and Paul influenced legislation to make vaccinations optional.

It’s OK to laugh at and ridicule politicians who say stupid things, but we must also remain vigilant in monitoring what effect those stupid statements might have if taken seriously. Of course the best defense against the spread of ignorance is to wash our hands of ill informed politicians when they come up for re-election. Unfortunately Senator Tillis was just sworn in, which means we’ll have to listen to him spew his own brand of fecal matter for six more years. As the villain said to Clint Eastwood in the film “Joe Kidd”, “It’s a shitty deal buddy, but it’s all you got.”!

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).