Joe Biden: Avoid Airplanes!

Rebecca Frankel collects Joe Biden’s Top Five Political Gaffes, which make for an amusing list.  She rightly gives top honors to Biden’s comments on swine flu.

In case you missed it (I’m catching up a bit myself), Biden said this Thursday morning:

Appearing on NBC’s “Today Show,” Biden said he has already advised his family to avoid traveling in small spaces. “I would tell members of my family, and I have, I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places right now,” he said. “It’s not that its going to Mexico, its that you are in a confined aircraft when one person sneezes, it goes everywhere 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,” the vice president went on. “From my perspective, 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, a closed container, closed car, a closed classroom, it’s a different thing.”

In fairness, Biden walked this back substantially later in the day.

Says Frankel:

But this latest foot-in-the-mouth, did-he-really-say-that-out-loud comment he made yesterday on NBC’s Today Show was worse than a gaffe. It was a serious misstep in leadership. The hysteria and fear gripping the American public is no laughing matter, and those in a position of influence must chose their words — not to mention their tone, and their demeanor — very carefully.

In his 100-day speech, President Obama used analogies with horses and barns, reassuring folks there was no need to be alarmed. This was good. Joe Biden telling folks that he doesn’t want his loved ones in confined spaces like planes, trains, and classrooms, was the opposite of good. It was bad.

Indeed.   The thing is, pretty much all of Biden’s greatest hits are defendable.  Indeed, I’ve defended him on most of them.   Obama is clean, bright, and articulate and Obama himself obviously rightly regarded Biden’s comment as an awkwardly delivered high compliment.   Biden’s “you cannot enter a 7-11 or a Dunkin Donuts unless you have an Indian accent” was silly but based on something so widely regarded as true that it has been a staple of our pop culture for a generation.

And, frankly, I’ve said the same thing about swine flu and airplanes in private conversation as Biden.  Indeed, we’ve canceled a family vacation to Mexico and have decided to instead go on a road trip because we don’t want to risk exposing a 4-month-old to the virus.  (And, yes, I realize that the probabilities point to driving being more dangerous.)

But Frankel’s right: Senior public officials saying these things simply has a different impact than an ordinary Joe.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I’m more miffed at the idiotic EU health commissioner than I am at Joe Biden. Her warning for Europeans not to travel to the United States is absurd. Per 100,000 they’ve had almost as many cases in Spain as here in the U. S. She’s not recommending not to travel to Spain, is she?

  2. Jim Henley says:

    America needs Biden because Obama’s relatives aren’t eccentric enough to give us the wacky quote stories every administration needs to provide. Obama, with great foresight, came up with a way to fill that gap using his veep selection. Maybe it was Plouffe and Axelrod. Those guys are geniuses.

  3. Tlaloc says:

    Biden’s certainly not articulate or one who should speak extemporaneously. I think we can all agree on that.

    At the same time I think he’s a pretty bright guy, just the kind of bright guy who can’t talk in front of people worth a damn.

  4. Jim Henley says:

    He’s clean too. You gotta give him that.

  5. G.A.Phillips says:

    At the same time I think he’s a pretty bright guy, just the kind of bright guy who can’t talk in front of people worth a damn.

    lol, ya bright like a firefly.