100 Days Presser: The Nanny State

The nanny state has apparently arrived, and Barack Obama took his place as National Mom last night in his 100-days prime-time press conference.  After the Obama administration spent the last two days stoking fears over the swine-flu outbreak, one reporter asked what exactly Obama intended to do to keep more cases from developing in the US.  Obama then turned into Mr. Mom while ducking the issue of closing borders:

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. With the flu outbreak spreading and worsening, can you talk about whether you think it’s time to close the border with Mexico and whether — under what conditions you might consider quarantining, when that might be appropriate?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, as I said, this is a cause for deep concern, but not panic. And I think that we have to make sure that we recognize that how we respond intelligently, systematically, based on science and what public health officials have to say, will determine in large part what happens.

I’ve consulted with our public health officials extensively on a day-to-day basis, in some cases an hour-to-hour basis. At this point they have not recommended a border closing. From their perspective it would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out, because we already have cases here in the United States.

Let’s stop here for a moment.  Having a few carriers cross the border does not mean that the entire country is infected.  I don’t know whether closing the southern border would prevent any infections from occurring, but the more people who cross while carrying the virus, the more people in the US who will get exposed to it.  It’s not a tremendously difficult computation to make.

I traveled to Ireland in the summer of 2001 when Britain and Northern Ireland were managing a raging outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease, which nearly destroyed their agricultural industries.  The US was very, very particular about screening for that when I returned home, insisting that I account for all my travels (whether I’d visited farms, etc) and clean all of my footwear.  And that was for a veterinary illness.

So what exactly is the government recommendation?

The key now I think is to make sure that we’re maintaining great vigilance, that everybody responds appropriately when cases do come up, and individual families start taking very sensible precautions that can make a huge difference.

So wash your hands when you shake hands. Cover your mouth when you cough. I know it sounds trivial, but it makes a huge difference. If you are sick, stay home. If your child is sick, keep them out of school.

To — if you are feeling certain flu symptoms, don’t get on an airplane, don’t get on a — any system of public transportation where you’re confined and you could potentially spread the virus.

Well, it’s a darned good thing we cleared out a prime-time slot for President Obama last night … so he could tell us to wash our hands and cover our mouths when we cough.  What’s next?  Telling us to wear clean underwear when we leave the house?  Always carry mad money in case your date turns out to be a cad?

Obama makes a good point about public transportation, but unfortunately, not the one he wanted.  If you rely on public transportation with no other options when an epidemic sweeps into town, public transportation is practically designed to amplify it.  Where else will hundreds of strangers have to squeeze up against each other for minutes or hours every day?  Even airplanes leave you some personal space.  You don’t have to hold onto a rail on an airplane, either, one handled by God-knows-how-many sick people before you boarded the bus or train.

Actually, that may have been the most responsive answer Obama gave.