Republican politicians once defended a “hands-off” approach to local government and entrepreneurship. Local governmental units like school boards knew how best to educate and protect local kids without meddling from distant capitals, went the thinking, just as private businesses knew best how to make their own workplace policies.

That’s apparently out the window with today’s GOP in places like Missouri, where Attorney General Eric Schmitt is suing school districts to prohibit mask mandates, and Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott has decreed that businesses may not impose vaccination requirements on their employees.

As if to pile on even more hypocrisy, Schmitt, Abbott and other Republicans are lambasting the Biden administration’s call for vaccine mandates as an infringement on — you guessed it — the autonomy of local governments and businesses. Do they even hear themselves?

Schmitt, once the grown-up in Missouri’s GOP room, has made what seems to be a calculated decision to sacrifice long-held conservative principles — along with public health and potentially the very lives of schoolchildren and their relatives — to pander his way to higher office.

In suing school districts that have imposed mask mandates, Schmitt not only trashes the principle of letting local school officials operate unimpeded by centralized state government, but he also out-and-out lies. His lawsuit’s claim that “the science shows that public mask use has little effect on community spread or stopping infection surges” is objectively false, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Journal of the American Medical Association and many others. But then, the infectious disease experts aren’t angling for a U.S. Senate seat by wooing the most petulantly anti-science fringes of the conservative base, as Schmitt is.

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Abbott, meanwhile, issued a sweeping executive order Oct. 11, 2021, prohibiting any Texas entity, including schools and private businesses, from requiring that employees, customers or students be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Like all 50 states, Texas will continue imposing vaccine mandates for other diseases in schools — but that’s barely the tip of the iceberg of inconsistency here.

Abbott accuses the Biden administration of “bullying many private entities into imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates” even as Abbott orders those same private entities to leave their workforces vulnerable to infection whether they like it or not. Abbott can tell businesses what to do, or he can chide the administration for telling businesses what to do, but he can’t rationally do both. And Biden’s order, at least, is on the side of science.

Abbott may end up performing an unintentional service to sanity here: His order sets up a collision course between state and federal vaccination policies — with at least two Texas-based major airlines, American and Southwest, announcing they will adhere to federal vaccine requirements in defiance of Abbott. Good. This battle is one that has to happen. But heaven help America if the Abbotts and Schmitts of the world win.

This American Opinion editorial is the opinion of the editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

©2021 Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.