Swine Flu and Joe Biden's Gaffes: Might the Vice President Have a Point?

Could the vice president have a point?


By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Joe Biden—the vice president, not the surgeon general, in case you were wondering—has been getting plenty of hard-earned criticism and ridicule on the 'net today for his intemperate remarks this morning on the Today Show to the effect that wise Americans will avoid being enclosed with each other like, well, the plague.

I think my favorite might be David Rothkopf's take, comparing Biden variably to Greta Garbo, and the germ-a-phobic Howard Hughes. He writes in part:

But clearly, with the limited number of cases of the flu in the United States and its limited impact, he seemed to be over-reacting. Actually, he seemed to be exercising his unique gift for sticking his foot in his mouth. (Which is especially inadvisable in times like these. You just don't know where that foot has been.) But even for Biden, who truly has become the crazy old uncle in this administration, saying goofy things and considered to be having a good day when he doesn't actually set the White House on fire by leaving his oatmeal on the stove for too long, has really outdone himself today though directly pouring gasoline onto the flames of panic and over-reaction to the swine flu outbreak.

And yet ... there might the germ (pun intended) of a point in Biden's florid advice.

As Ezra Klein writes:

But here's the thing: Biden may be right to induce a bit of panic. The United States Travel Association won't think so. It's their profit stream on the line, after all. But epidemiologists are probably quietly relieved by the Vice President's comments. ... The absolute best case is that Joe Biden did something that's so effective that he looks really stupid.

Ezra's done a bit of research on this, and makes an interesting pro-Biden argument.

Here's what I'm not sure is clear in this whole discussion: How risky is swine flu H1N1 flu? Should we avoid it because getting sick is a generally unpleasant, bad experience that one naturally wants to avoid? Or will its spread result in widespread fatalities? We've heard a lot about this influenza but I'm still not sure how informed we are about it.

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