Joe Biden, voice of calm and reason

The vice president's office has to walk back his comments about the swine flu after he went a little far during an interview Thursday morning.

Published April 30, 2009 2:14PM (EDT)

For the most part, since his inauguration as vice president, Joe Biden has done a good job of keeping himself in line and avoiding the kind of verbal slip-ups he's famous for. That streak ended Thursday morning, with an appearance on NBC's "Today" show, when, asked about swine flu and what advice he'd give to a family member who was thinking of traveling to Mexico, Biden said:

I would tell members of my family -- and I have -- I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now. It's not that it's going to Mexico, it's you're in a confined aircraft when one person sneezes it goes all the way through the aircraft. That's me. I would not be, at this point, if they had another way of transportation, suggesting they ride the subway. So from my perspective, what it relates to is mitigation.

If you're out in the middle of a field and someone sneezes, that's one thing. If you're in a closed aircraft or a closed container, a closed car, a closed classroom, it's a different thing.

Now, that may actually be solid medical advice. But it certainly isn't the picture of calm that the administration has been working very hard to portray recently. And so his spokeswoman sent out a statement to reporters, attempting to walk back her boss' comments:

On the Today Show this morning the Vice President was asked what he would tell a family member who was considering air travel to Mexico this week. The advice he is giving family members is the same advice the Administration is giving to all Americans: that they should avoid unnecessary air travel to and from Mexico. If they are sick, they should avoid airplanes and other confined public spaces, such as subways. This is the advice the Vice President has given family members who are traveling by commercial airline this week. As the President said just last night, every American should take the same steps you would take to prevent any other flu: keep your hands washed; cover your mouth when you cough; stay home from work if you're sick; and keep your children home from school if they're sick.

Of course, that's not actually what the vice president said -- he didn't say sick people should avoid the subways, he said anyone who can should avoid the subways in order to prevent themselves from getting sick. And those are two very different things. But hey, he didn't call the flu articulate, bright and clean, so that's something, right?


By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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