Vice President Joe Biden might as well have drawn a big target on his back along with a bright red "kick me" tag.
On NBC's Today Show, Biden said that because of the Swine Flu epidemic, "I would tell members of my family - and I have - that I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now."
Biden added that his caution was not confined to travel to Mexico. "If you're any place in a confined aircraft and one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft."
The blowback wasn't long in coming. Soon Biden found himself on the receiving end of criticism both friend and foe. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), whose Senate Appropriations Committee panel handles spending for the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Public Health Service, told Iowa radio reporters on a conference call that Biden's statement was "unfortunate."
"We just don't need that type of misinformation going out. I wish the vice president had checked with the center for disease control and preparedness before he made that statement....As far as not riding on subways or planes, we're not going to shut down our system and that doesn't get to the nub of the problem anyway, so I think that's very unfortunate that this kind of misinformation got out."
Biden's comments also fueled the fire of the Obama administration's critics, who said it was just part of a broader media-induced scare campaign (though it's unclear to what ends).
Robert Stacy McCain of The Other McCain had a good line, writing that "not since the Great Alar Apple Scare of 1989 have so many media alarmists spread so much panic to so many about so little."
Over at Commentary, Jennifer Rubin went a bit deeper, suggesting this "would be a good time to send Biden on the funeral circuit and give up the pretense that he is a wise counselor."
For the record, Biden's office later offered a clarification:
"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."
The president can add this episode to the Biden gaffe files but as they say, this, too, shall pass. But obvious yuks aside, I'm obligated to raise the question: Is Biden's advice entirely kooky? As someone one who depends on subways to get around, I can't count the number of times I've found myself sitting next to a non-stop sneezer-cougher who obviously should have stayed under the covers sucking down Hot Totties all day.
Blame Biden for the sin of honesty. Many of us might feel the same way, but wouldn't say it. He did. Next time you're in a similar spot, might you reach a similar conclusion?
By the way, below you can watch Biden's appearance on CBS News' The Early Show this morning. (This is not where he made the controversial comments.)