A fair question, albeit a surprising query coming from the New York Times. Joe Biden has gone out of his way to set a good public example of social distancing and mask-wearing in the COVID-19 pandemic, in contrast with Donald Trump’s efforts to make things look more normal than they really are. However, Biden and his campaign have been remarkably opaque about the protocols in place to protect the septuagenarian’s health in this election, the NYT notes, and it’s beginning to worry them. Is something going on?
But beyond the public examples of safety precautions, Mr. Biden’s health protocols have remained largely under wraps, with his campaign saying little about what steps it is taking to protect the 77-year-old Democratic nominee.
His aides will not answer questions about whether Mr. Biden is tested daily; they say simply that he is tested “regularly.” Until this weekend, they had promised to inform the public only if he had a confirmed positive case. Then, on Saturday night, after two days of refusing to provide details about Mr. Biden’s testing procedures, the campaign committed to releasing the results of all of his tests. He tested negative on Sunday, the campaign said.
Transparency has taken on new significance in the presidential race given the conflicting information about Mr. Trump’s health and the fact that his Democratic rival, who is also in an age group that is particularly susceptible to Covid-19, was exposed to the president during their 90-minute debate on Tuesday. Mr. Biden, who is ahead in national polls and many battleground state surveys, still faces the possibility of a positive test; he is continuing to campaign rather than quarantine, and his campaign has been cagey about his health protocols.
The questions about Mr. Biden’s health come as he is confronting an unprecedented political reality: He would be the oldest president ever elected if he wins in November, and he faces the daily personal risks of a pandemic that has killed more than 209,000 people in the United States. Mr. Trump’s diagnosis, and the apparent health threat he posed during a debate where he was often talking or shouting over Mr. Biden, are forcing the Biden campaign to grapple with its own next steps and disclosures regarding the health of the Democratic nominee.
The caginess is at least in some part driven by the same impulse Trump has — to maintain the appearance of vitality. The truth is that we have two elderly men running for the toughest job in America, and a large part of getting people to vote is convincing them that the candidates are up to the task. Hence we have Trump driving around in his limo last night for a drive-by salute to his supporters outside Walter Reed and his desire to get back to the White House ASAP rather than recuperate at his lush hospital suite.
Symone Sanders tried to cast the “caginess” as a security issue:
“Much like I wouldn’t discuss our security plans here on national television, I’m not going to talk about our inner workings of our health plans,” Symone D. Sanders, a senior adviser for the Biden campaign, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday when asked what the campaign would do if Mr. Biden tested positive.
Nice try. In fact, the controversies surrounding Trump demonstrate why this isn’t a security issue at all, but a transparency and credibility issue, exactly as the NYT points out. Media outlets are heavily criticizing Trump and his team for not being transparent about the timing of the diagnosis and the assumptions of risks immediately prior to it, when Trump was apparently not feeling well. That expectation of transparency applies to Biden too, and to his own protocols for avoiding infection and what they plan to do if those fail. Other than blame Trump, that is, which will be high up on their to-do lists if that happens.
Right now, though, Team Biden has an opening to correct this. They can take advantage of the controversy of Trump’s hospitalization to expand their own transparency about Biden’s health. Dr. Kelly Michelson points out the obvious political benefit that is practically falling into Team Biden’s lap at the moment:
“It engenders trust in the community, it helps allay fears and concerns, and I also don’t really see why you would not be transparent about what’s happening,” she said. “I think that it’s important that the public knows what’s going on.”
So why aren’t Biden and his handlers taking advantage of this opening? The NYT never answers that question, but it’s worth asking. One has to wonder if something’s going on, and maybe not even related to a virus. At the very least, it seems to be related to judgment.