- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017.
Joe Biden wants to be alone. And after this morning’s performance on the Today Show, it is quite likely that the Obama administration will be fulfilling that wish for him very soon. Where was that undisclosed location anyway?
Biden, when asked about how to mitigate the risks associated with the swine flu threat, said that people should avoid being in enclosed spaces with others. He specifically cited airplanes, subways, and classrooms. Which would mean, er, shutting down the entire economy. Actually, all social interaction. In fact, essentially what the Vice President was doing was sending all of us to our rooms.
Now admittedly, Mexico is shutting down much of its economy to contain the disease. 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.
It is one thing for the WHO to ramp up warning levels to ensure the world can contain potential threats. It’s another thing to suggest that people stay off airplanes (do it long enough and Steve Rattner will have another industry to rebuild), out of public transportation (guaranteed to produce more road-rage related traffic deaths in congested traffic than the swine flu will generate worldwide), and out of school (take that competitiveness).
If the Vice President has become a Howard Hughes like germ-a-phobe, then perhaps he might want to consider going all the way and trying out reclusiveness for a while. We’ll miss the light comedy but I’m not sure how many more gaffes of this nature an already weak economy can take. Paging Dr. Gupta: If only Sanjay had been our surgeon general now, we would really be benefitting from his communications skills and the ability to have the administration turn to more qualified spokespeople than kooky old Uncle Joe.