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Wash your hands. Don't panic. Don't breathe a word.

Up until last Thursday, people plying their livelihoods in the travel industry must have thought things couldn’t get any worse. And things probably couldn’t without the help of government, which is why we have Joe Biden, who along with being Vice President is additionally Deputy Commissioner of Gaffes and Faux Pas.

Per The Wall Street Journal, “All week, President Barack Obama has carefully calibrated his message on the new swine flu, advising vigilance and such health tips as handwashing, but avoiding any hint of panic.”

Biden, apparently sensing his boss’s temperate timbre on the subject, the latter who wants to avoid further incumbering the travel industry in what we nowadays call “This Economy,” got himself on the “Today” show and proclaimed that he would advise his own family not to:

A. Ride on a plane

B. Take the subway

C. Put themselves in any confined spaces

You might think this nicely fits the parameters of plain speaking. But you’d be wrong by contemporary standards. The White House quickly issued a statement, saying that what Biden said isn’t what he meant. Of course, as Biden is a politician, this should go without saying.

But the bluntness with which White House spokesman Robert Gibbs transmogrified what the Vice President actually said into what he wanted him to say was refreshing for its transparency.

Said Gibbs, “I understand what he said, and I’m telling you what he meant to say.” You have to appreciate the cojones on this guy. In the Nixon White House, Ron Ziegler lamely labeled his master’s extant prevarications as simply “inoperative.”

Such truth-shifting should seem almost Orwellian to the electorate. But the electorate listens to politicians the same way Timmy used to listen to Lassie bark on 1950’s television. The barking meant whatever fit the script—whatever we wanted it to mean: What Lassie? You’ve proven that Justified True Belief is actually knowledge qua knowledge? Good girl! Now run into town and tell Professor Smith before he starts the lecture at the Linguistics Club!

Anyway… again per The Wall Street Journal, “One White House official defended the Vice President, saying the benefits of Mr. Biden’s candor inside the White House outweigh any drawbacks of his candor outside it.”

In other words, his value lies in the fact that he might be stupid enough to tell his boss something he doesn’t want to hear.

I feel so much better. I think I’ll go wash my hands. But I can’t promise you I won’t panic.

Posted by Stephen G. Barone at May 3, 2009 6:23 PM
Comments
Comment #281252

He’s not that far off the mark, actually. If you don’t want to catch the flu, which is typically an airborne pathogen, you don’t go into large places that feature common ventilation.

Did you know that the main reason that people catch colds in the winter time isn’t the temperature, but the fact that the temperature drives people inside to all breathe the same air?

The flu operates similarly.

Biden’s only real sin is that he’s not as much the voice of calm as his boss is. Otherwise, the trouble is mainly that what he said was impolitic, not that it wasn’t true.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 3, 2009 7:14 PM
Comment #281257

Actually, Joe Biden being an unbelievable idiot isn’t what the real story is IMO. We all already know that. The real story is that Robert Gibbs has no problem standing before the American people and lying his ass off about the silliest of things.

And if he will lie about this and other things that are so easy to check up on and verify, what else is he lying about?

In fact, I am pretty sure we can safely ignore everything that comes out of the White House through the mouth of Robert Gibbs.

Posted by: Rhinehold at May 3, 2009 9:18 PM
Comment #281258

Stephen,

It wasn’t impolitic, it was ignorant and with the power that his words now have given the position of power he was given by the electorate, highly dangerous.

This administration apparently haven’t figured out that ‘words are important’, at least as much as they say they are. When the government should be calming completely unnecessary fears of a flu that is not that dangerous but also lessons in strength with each passing of it, here Joe Biden is, feeding into the hysterical attitudes that they should be trying to dissuade.

Posted by: Rhinehold at May 3, 2009 9:20 PM
Comment #281263

Stephen

Why not just hole up at home and never go out? Howard Hughes famously had that kind of attitude toward keeping sickness at bay.

Biden cannot seem to say anything w/o going over the top. If he was a Republican, it would be roundly criticized in the media, but as a Dem even the dumbest comments are just fine.

So - yes - Biden is right. But nobody can live that way.

Of course, a conspiratorial look might find that Biden is supposed to say stupid things like this to create a bigger sense of crisis. Then Obama can look reasonable in comparison. It is like going out with an uglier girl so that you look good in comparison.

Posted by: Christine at May 3, 2009 11:03 PM
Comment #281264

Rhinehold,

Why is it “ignorant” for Biden to say he’ll be advising his own family not to travel in common enclosed spaces? Do you really have such a low opinion of Americans that you believe they will all panic? Why isn’t good policy for those that can avoid travel in enclosed spaces to do so? Wouldn’t this exponentially decrease the risk of exposure for everyone? Please don’t actually answer back, as I consider conversation with you to be pointless.

Christine,

His comment is many things, but it’s not stupid. It’s completely sensible.

I recall after the towers fell that the government came out and said, falsely, that the air was clean and the dust was nothing to worry about. I had a friend whose wife was pregnant, and he left the city, against my advice. The following year there was indeed a much higher incidence of birth defects…. Turns out he was right.

Why couldn’t the Bush administration have just said the truth, that the air was polluted? I doubt many people would have left New York en mass, but many of them (myself included) would have taken more precautions, such as taking advantage of free air filtration systems, had the EPA not come out and lied and said there was nothing to worry about. I trusted that report. I guess that means I’m stupid. Don’t worry, I’ll never trust the government again when a Republican is in power.

Why when a politician speaks an obvious truth are so many people horrified? You’re so cynical you actually prefer a lie?

Posted by: Max at May 3, 2009 11:36 PM
Comment #281266

Max,
Libertarians are bankrupt. They have no useful ideas for the situation we are in today. None. And no, letting a recession turn into a depression by doing nothing does not count as a useful idea. Deregulation? Privatization? Outsourcing? Thanks, but no thanks. Americans have consistently and resoundingly rejected Libertarians in overwhelming numbers, yet we are still stuck with the consequences of deregulation, privatization, and other catastrophic failures of libertarian/conservative economic philosophy.

Ideas have consequences. So do the lack of ideas.

Posted by: phx8 at May 4, 2009 12:22 AM
Comment #281267
Why is it “ignorant” for Biden to say he’ll be advising his own family not to travel in common enclosed spaces?

Because it shows a complete lack of understanding about the nature of this virus. Hence the word ‘ignorant’. Viruses like this are around all of the time, his recommendation would result in his family never leaving their house. Or, Micheal Jackson syndrome.

Posted by: rhinehold at May 4, 2009 12:40 AM
Comment #281269

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

There is a good reason Libertarian thought is the lead balloon of political philosophy. Libertarianism is like the teenager who reads Ayn Rand for the first time, and discovers their own philosophical freedom and independence. It’s a wonderful, heady time! However, it’s also self-centered and somewhat greedy in nature. As the teen becomes an adult and parent, the ‘virtue of selfishness’ becomes tedious. That person finds there is only one thing worth doing with freedom, and that’s to make a commitment to something larger, a commitment to the future, whether it’s a child, the public commons, an organization, or something else. In other words, freedom is only useful in a social context when it is subsumed in the effort to make a contribution to something larger, like ‘we the people.’

Posted by: phx8 at May 4, 2009 12:45 AM
Comment #281270
Libertarians are bankrupt. They have no useful ideas for the situation we are in today. None.

Yes, it would require you to actually listen to the ideas others present instead of latching on to what you think is the answer and ignoring all others.

You know, the same thing that you accused Republicans of doing the past 8 years. Hurray, you’ve become just as bad as them.

Let me provide you with a few ‘ideas’.

http://www.lp.org/news/press-releases/libertarian-%E2%80%9Cprosperity-plan%E2%80%9D-repeals-income-tax-ends-corporate-welfare

1) Repeal the income tax: Adopt legislation repealing the income tax and abolishing the Internal Revenue Service. Until the income tax is repealed, adopt legislation preserving the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and enacting across-the-board income tax cuts.

2) Adopt the Balanced Budget Amendment: Adopt a constitutional amendment requiring the federal budget be balanced, and balanced exclusively by cutting expenditures, not by raising taxes.

3) Abolish corporate welfare and bailouts: Adopt federal legislation prohibiting any federal spending program that provides payments or unique benefits and advantages to specific companies or industries, terminating programs that provide direct grants to businesses, eliminating programs that provide research and other services for industries and ending programs that provide subsidized loans or insurance to businesses.

If we had eliminated all income taxes for everyone making less than $250,000 per year for 2 years, it would have cost less than the ‘stimulus plans’ that were recently enacted. And would have taken effect now, not in two years when the bulk of Obama’s plan will start to take effect.

There are a lot of ideas out there. Perhaps you should take your fingers out of your ears?

You can use hyperbole and emotion to attempt to make your political arguments, but you’ll have to deal with appearing like a partisan fool.

Posted by: rhinehold at May 4, 2009 12:47 AM
Comment #281271
Americans have consistently and resoundingly rejected Libertarians in overwhelming numbers, yet we are still stuck with the consequences of deregulation, privatization, and other catastrophic failures of libertarian/conservative economic philosophy.

So, do me this favor. Next presidential election, stand up and demand that Libertarians are allowed in the debates. Unless the ‘people’ actually hear the ideals of Libertarians, it is a bit of a stretch to claim that the ‘people’ are rejecting something when they are not given access to those ideas and instead only hear from them through the filtered voices of those who oppose those ideas.

Posted by: rhinehold at May 4, 2009 12:49 AM
Comment #281273

Rhinehold:

“Because it shows a complete lack of understanding about the nature of this virus.”

Does it? Because at the time of this interview the CDC and WHO were warning of pandemics. While Biden’s honesty might not have been on message, it was honest and not bad advice given the public data at the time he made it. Did it unnecessarily hurt the travel industry? Perhaps. So did a bunch of people dying. More dying wouldn’t make it much better. Caution at an appropriate time might save a lot of pain later.

Posted by: gergle at May 4, 2009 12:58 AM
Comment #281275

Rhinehold,
‘Idea’ number 1 = lead balloon.
I’d like for wishes to be horses, so that beggars can ride. Sadly, wishes are not the same as ideas. This offers absolutely nothing for addressing the current economic situation. It’s worse than nothing, since it absorbs bandwidth & attention in a way that completely wastes everyone’s time.

‘Idea’ number 2: Balanced Budget Amendment
If Libertarians can convince everyone that monetary policy, fiscal policy, supply and demand, and economic cycles do not actually exist, then balanced budget amendments will work great! Unfortunately, virtually no one thinks that. Ups and downs will perpetually whipsaw budgets. Monetary and fiscal policy work, and supply and demand are still in effect, despite the heartfelt wishes of Libertarian beggars. The ‘idea’ resembles more wishful thinking, sans ‘thinking.’ Another lead balloon.

Abolishing corporate welfare is hardly a Libertarian idea. It’s been promoted by all who oppose the so-called moderates and conservative corporatists of both the GOP and Democratic Party.

Abolishing bailouts? You mean, do nothing? How quaint. How Libertarian.

Posted by: phx8 at May 4, 2009 2:13 AM
Comment #281278

Ahh…Joe,Joe

At least he knows how to spell potato and hasn’t shot anybody in the face yet. Comments like these are likely to give pause to any wingnnuts contemplating assasination out there.

Posted by: bills at May 4, 2009 5:30 AM
Comment #281281

Biden’s comment do not even come close to the potential harm by this so call “moderate” GOP senator.http://www.thenation.com/blogs/thebeat/430261?rel=hp_picks

Collins R-Maine insisted that 900 million dollars for pandemic preparedness be cut from the stimulus package before she would agree to vote cloture. Thanks again GOP.

Posted by: bills at May 4, 2009 7:26 AM
Comment #281283

Rhinehold-
First, Robert Gibbs is the Administration’s spokesman. It’s far from Gibb’s job to be critial of a fellow administration member. Even if he is BS’ing us, we shouldn’t be outraged, because its a waste of our time to expect him to take the negative side on a mere gaffe.

Second, do your research: as excessive as Biden’s solution is, it is essentially correct. Flu is an airborne virus, and this particular swine flu is particularly contagious. If somebody coughs in a crowded, contained environment like a train, a bus, or especially a jet aircraft, people will get infected.

But never mind that. You folks need a punching bag! You know, Obama’s opponents pounced on him when he talked about keeping one’s engine tuned up and one’s tires properly inflated as a means of saving gas during the campaign. It didn’t matter that this was common sense advice. No, they were looking for an opening, so one small piece of advice, though right, became for them further evidence of naivete, despite the fact that he never said that well-inflated tires alone would solve the energy crisis.

Yes, Biden has his share of gaffes. But the people who pay the most attention to gaffes aren’t exactly paying attention to the real issues. Most Gaffes are merely people twisting or jumping upon a person’s words. If that’s what you pay attention to, you’re not paying attention to real substance.

Christine-
Howard Hughes degenerated towards permanent seclusion. Are you suggesting Biden was advocating that? I’m pretty sure that Biden’s suggestion was temporary. What gives you reason to think otherwise?

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 4, 2009 7:52 AM
Comment #281285

Max, Stephen et al

It is a matter of degree. Intelligent people can make intelligent distinctions. The inability to do this properly is a great problem of politics. A guy like Biden can make a statement like that and some people defend it as true. It IS indeed true. But not very useful.

If Biden believes what he says, he should be closing down the Federal government and/or letting everybody work from home. All those important officials taking the subways, car pooling etc surely must be a existential threat, if Biden is to be taken seriously. In fact, maybe Biden is advocating that we don’t use mass transit. We are all safer in our own private vehicle with our own private air.

You see, in the practical world comments like Biden’s have practical consequences. Biden just bloviates.

There is a great quotation from Hamlet that fits - It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Unfortunately, in Biden’s case, his gassing has consequences.

Posted by: Christine at May 4, 2009 8:18 AM
Comment #281296

Christine,

Obama did talk about shutting down the public schools… Obviously, work must go on, however, I think recommending that those that can work from home for a week or two do so is a great idea. This would decrease the risk of this becoming an epidemic more than any other step that could be taken. I leave it in the president’s hands what makes most sense policy wise, but Biden’s perfectly okay to talk about his personal advice - to avoid public enclosed spaces when possible. Honestly, it’s criminal that that advice has to come from our VP and not news outlets and health organizations.

Posted by: Max at May 4, 2009 1:03 PM
Comment #281297

Sorry, trying to paint Biden as some kind of idiot or unintelligent is not going to work. We’ve seen idiot up close and personal for the last 8 years, so most of this country knows the difference.

Posted by: Max at May 4, 2009 1:05 PM
Comment #281302

Christine-
Well, Obama’s said it more artfully: if you’re sick, stay at home, get better, don’t be coming to work, going to school, taking the train, catching a flight. With an airborne virus like Swine Flu, that’s a sensible thing to tell people.

I would advise people griping about disruption in travel and other things that the situation would really get disrupted if this strain mutates and becomes more virulent (which happened with the 1918 virus.)

It used to be that people recognized the value of not leaving such things to chance.

Christine, you look at my criticism of the GOP across the way, and you’ll find that I mainly save my choice words for those who have really just gotten it flat wrong. I find the inartful comment stuff to be a rather poor place to start in terms of criticism, because essentially, you’re arguing against somebody who is, in content, though not form, right.

As a person who has had his share of good points messed up by bad delivery, I cannot help but have sympathy for those who misspeak, but do not get their facts wrong. It is certainly better that way around than those who speak persuasively, but are otherwise full of it. An argument won on account of a verbal missstep is a hollow victory.

Let me tell you what a real problem is: when you, like Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins, successfully arguing against being prepared for something that actually does come to pass.

If this current outbreak or its associated events become worse, history will be kinder to Biden than to them. Better to be right and fumble your words than to be eloquent and have people know exactly what you meant when you got it wrong.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 4, 2009 1:50 PM
Comment #281303

Texas announced several school closing this past weekend.

Those damn federal schools (controlled by responsive local boards), how dare they address the concerns of parents by closing schools when a child is suspected of having the flu. They may damage the tourism industry. How irresponsible!!!

:sarcasm emoticon:

Posted by: gergle at May 4, 2009 2:00 PM
Comment #281307

Max

I didn’t say anything about closing schools and I was being sarcastic about closing the government.

Biden says lots of dumb things. this is just the latest. He is a smart guy, an entertaining guy, the kind of guy who is fun at the local tavern, but not really a serious guy.

I am glad that President Obama told me that I should wash my hands and stay at home if I was sick. In my 53 years of life, I guess I Just didn’t know those things. Next he will tell me to eat when I am hungry and drink when I am dry.

The things they are saying are true. I don’t think we need the president to tell us what our mothers told us or what we learned in first grade. If indeed people need such advice, Americans are dumber than we think. It is scary in a self governing country if the electorate doesn’t know what a child should know. Maybe that is why we elect the politicians we do.

Or maybe politicians are just arrogant and condescending to the people they serve.

Posted by: Christine at May 4, 2009 8:03 PM
Comment #281311

Reiteration is more the name of the game, of specific defenses. Influenza is… Well you know what kind of virus it is. I’ve said already three or four times. The sad thing is, most people try to work through their illnesses. The sad thing is, we don’t emphasize hygiene so much anymore. Obama doesn’t think people are morons. He just knows most people don’t pay attention to things like this with any special emphasis.

You think it would be obvious in a place like a hospital, right? Well, it wasn’t actually. People forgot. They emphasized it, and provided the products to make keeping hands clean easier. Result? Fewer people die of infections in hospital.

Germs don’t care that you know, if you don’t do. The president is trying to get people to do these things, not trying to teach them something they already know. Simple steps, easy steps, the kind we get too complacent to realize we’re not taking enough.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 4, 2009 10:04 PM
Comment #281331
Abolishing bailouts? You mean, do nothing? How quaint. How Libertarian.

Yes, because the bailouts were the ONLY answer to the problem.

(is this where I include the sarcasm tags?)

Posted by: Rhinehold at May 5, 2009 12:24 PM
Comment #281355

Remember bird flu? It killed a couple hundred out of the billions on earth. SARS? About the same. Mad Cow? This is my favorite. It infected around 150 people over the last fifteen years. People in Europe destroyed millions of cows.

It is easy to get hysterical. But there is a sensible middle ground between doing nothing and going crazy. Biden fell over the edge.

Posted by: Christine at May 5, 2009 9:05 PM
Comment #281384

Christine-
It helps if you don’t take these things lightly. A lot of these viruses, like SARS are limited in their spread because health agencies generally jump on them and beat the crap out of them. They don’t sit back, let the epidemic get out of control, and then try to get control again.

As for Mad Cow Disease? I’m not sure why you would want to take a chance with this pathogen.

Here’s the issue: are there good reasons not to be proactive in confronting these diseases? Or is this resistance a matter of the political dislike of being told what to do?

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 6, 2009 4:49 PM
Comment #281390

Stephen

It is a matter of perspective. Mad cow is bad IF you get it. Out of all the people in all the world for the last 20 years a couple hundred people got the disease. More people die EACH year in bathtub accidents. You have a much higher chance of being hit by lightning or killed by a swarm of bees. I mentioned mad cow because people all over got hysterical about it with no real cause.

I think flu is a serious problem. Each year 36,000 people die of it in the U.S. It has to be managed. The recent hysteria just went a little too far and the President personally telling us to wash our hands maybe indicates that he doesn’t manage well enough to have competent subordinates.

Posted by: Christine at May 6, 2009 10:24 PM
Comment #281455

Christine-
The problem with Mad Cow Disease if it gets into our food supply. It is not caused by a virus or a bacteria, but a rogue protein that causes other proteins of its type to fold into it’s pathogenic form. It can be contracted by consuming food contaminated with it, and there is no way to decontaminate food with it short of just incinerating it.

People in this country were feeding the ground up remains of dead livestock back to livestock, which is known to be a surefire way to get the animals infected. It is also, potentially, a way to get people infected, too.

The issue here is preventing a mass infection before it happens. It may seem excessive to you, but since there’s no known cure or vaccined for the condition this contaminant brings on, better safe than sorry takes on a whole new meaning. Mortality by influenza, even the particularly virulent 1918 strain, is nowhere near that. People don’t typically munch on brains (except in George Romeo movies) so CJD is not much of a concern, unless some genius puts a downer cow’s remains into the shredder and starts feeding it to all the other cows, who Humans do eat on a regular basis.

You cite 30,000 deaths. I’d tell you this: it’s not that unusual, and really not that avoidable. Influenza is an airborne virus, and the young and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to it. At least, if we’re talking about the usual strains. Influenza also infects a large number of people in the country at a time, so its mortality rate must be understood in the context of it being a mass infection, not merely a matter of local contamination.

Influenza is also viral, and mutates in such a way to make last years vaccine useless for this years strains. This is not like Mumps, Rabies, Chicken Pox, or other diseases, where immunity is long lasting and the germs slow to change.

Obama’s doing just fine. He’s got his people in front of this thing. If I were you, I would stop looking for reasons to claim that Obama is the Democrat’s version of George W. Bush. Obama has nowhere near that man’s flaming incompetence, and most Democrats roll their eyes at the suggestion that Obama is anywhere near as bad a leader as Bush.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 8, 2009 3:41 PM
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