I'll just say it now: In a contest of who's the least surprised that Rick Perry's Achilles' heel turned out to be his support for mandatory HPV vaccines, I feel I'd win. The first line in this New York Times piece on this whole "sex shot" dust-up describes the controversy as "unlikely," which is basically the last word I would have used for it. I prefer words like "inevitable." Then again, I grew up where the Bible-thumpers who create the backbone of the Tea Party were thick on the ground, and I have a general idea of what their obsessions are. In order, I'd say they are: 1) tight-bodied young women having sex out of your sight and control, 2) dudes giving it to each other, and 3) Satan. Health care for young women who have the nerve to have sex lives you can't see for judging-and-titillation purposes is more than a hot button. It's the nuclear button. Why else do you think one of the most continuous forms of entertainment for the religious right in the past few decades is showing up at abortion clinics to gawk and yell at women whose soon-to-be-terminated pregnancies constitute solid proof they've recently touched a penis?
Michele Bachmann pushes the judgment-and-titillation button with a boldness that would make the producers of "barely legal" porn step back and beg for more subtlety. In both the debate and in pretty much every media appearance since, Bachmann has made a point of lavishly describing how innocent the little girls are who are being subjected to the big scary sex shots that are being forced---forced, I tell you!---into their delicate, youthful bodies. You thought you were just taking your daughter in to get another vaccination, you know, but as soon as you walk in the office, the doors lock behind you, the "bump chicka bow wow" music begins, and Humbert Humbert appears from around the corner, leering at your innocent child and brandishing that "government shot." And Rick Perry supports this! What a pervert.
Plus, now she's arguing it will make your kid retarded. Before this is all over, she'll be arguing that Procter & Gamble were in cahoots with Merck to pay Rick Perry off to promote this orgy injection, and if you play the HPV vaccine backward, you can hear Satan whispering, "Smoke marijuana." I do think Rick Perry will survive this. The voting base of the Republican Party that thinks that you can halt the onset of puberty by voting for Christian right politicians may be getting louder, but their numbers haven't really grown since Mike Huckabee was running the same "I'll keep your daughters from screwing" campaign in 2008. At best, Bachmann will be a spoiler for Mitt Romney, but Perry's got so much momentum behind him, I don't even really see that happening at this point.
For those who are curious, the HPV vaccine is actually quite safe, and there's no reason to think it's any more dangerous than any other shot. Irin at Jezebel ran down the facts. There are very few adverse reactions that can actually be linked to the shot, and of those, it's the same stuff you get with most shots, i.e. fainting and nausea from people who have squeamishness around shots. (No judgment here; I'm one of those people.)