On Sunday's Meet the Press, David Gregory pressed a trio of federal officials about how comments on swine flu like Vice President Biden's have caused overreactions across the country, such as the diversion of a plane because a passenger had flu-like symptoms, the cancellation of a rap concert, and a variety of other dislocations in American life.
Acting director of the Centers for Disease Control Dr. Richard Besser said:
Well, y'know, everybody is going to deal with their concerns in different ways, and that's the nature of people. What we can do is try and tell them what the risks are - what do we know - share information as we have it, and continue to hit the messages of those things that can be really effective.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius lamely used the fact that people are flooding emergency rooms as an opportunity to promote health care reform . . . So that panicked insured people would flood doctors' offices?
If government officials are going to manage a situation like this - and doubts have been raised that they should - their obligation is not just to report, but to actually manage. Allowing a cacophony of government voices to drive erratic behavior by people across the land is harmful to the country for all the resources it wastes.
The Obama Administration should have a disciplined plan for handling situations like this. The administration's disorganized response here is a signal of the truly awful reaction we could expect should something serious happen, like a terrorist attack. Terrorism, of course, works by inducing self-injurious overreaction on the part of the victim state, so overreaction must be avoided.
This incident reveals that the country is exceedingly vulnerable to terrorism because communications plans are evidently not in place.
(The administration's plan for any terrorist attack should prioritize moving Vice President Biden to an undisclosed location. Not for his security or for continuity of government - so he won't appear in the media!)