The King’s Speech

GELFAND’S WORLD--I won’t be the first to compare the President’s Wednesday night speech with the zombie apocalypse.

I’m not exactly sure what a zombie apocalypse is supposed to be, but that delivery and that lack of expression sure fit what we saw. One commenter described Trump’s reading style as like a grade school kid. CNN put it this way.  

I heard about some of it while scrolling through the computer screen early in the evening. How many of you reacted like me – when you saw the news about European travel getting shut down and the cancelling of the NBA season, did you wonder whether Andy Borowitz was writing the news section? 

Economic fallout 

What’s becoming increasingly obvious is that the actions taken by world governments to defend against the virus are going to have a detrimental effect on the economy. Shutting down Milan, the NBA, European travel, and public gatherings reduces the flow of money through the economy. People will start to notice. There’s only so much that Trump can blame on the Democrats. 

More seriously 

As to the virus itself, I would argue that we still don’t know how bad things are going to get. There are still two variables that are not very well defined. The first is how contagious it is. The public health specialists like to use the term R0 (written as R sub-zero and pronounced in typical British fashion as R-nought). In simple terms, if you are a patient with an active case of the corona virus, how many people will you infect? If 4 other people get it from you, that means that the epidemic will grow strongly. 

The other variable is – simply put – how bad is the illness? Right now, we are seeing deaths that are mostly clustered in the elderly. The Chinese (and other) data suggest that very few people under the age of 50 will die from the disease. The worst sort of risk is being an eighty-something patient in a nursing home full of people of similarly advanced age. If the disease spreads in that sort of environment, we are going to see a high rate of mortality, just as we already have in a few particular places. 

Of course the current rate of cures has depended on the availability of medical care and the equipment that drives things like ventilator therapy. If the epidemic were to expand so widely that the medical system is overwhelmed, then people will die needlessly. In this sense, the Trump administration’s hostility towards the healthcare system will have its effects. 

The choice of the vice presidential candidate is a crucial decision 

Back when Bill Clinton won the nomination, it was an era in which pundits talked about ticket balancing. If the candidate was from the south, he was supposed to pick a running mate from the north or the Midwest. Instead, Bill Clinton picked a running mate who was exactly the same as him – a liberal southerner. It worked. 

Biden is going to be under a lot of pressure to pick a female running mate, and probably one who comes from a minority group. That would be the modern day version of ticket balancing. His advisors may, instead, suggest that he pick a midwestern governor, or the closest that he can come to someone like that. This would be intended to appeal to voters in the swing states such as Wisconsin and Iowa. I don’t think this approach generally works all that well. The voters see it (accurately enough) as regional pandering. 

What is critical is that Biden pick somebody who the voters will trust to step in as acting president should Biden (at his advanced age) become ill. I wonder if somebody with military experience would be the best choice, both from a political standpoint and as a person with administrative ability. This approach has been tried before, particularly by third-party candidates, but finding the right person would be laborious at best. One possible choice coming from a colleague of mine is Beto O’Rourke. I’m a little skeptical, but the guy is relatively young and looks healthy. 

Bernie is in a lose-lose situation 

So Bernie Sanders intends to fight through one more debate and another election day. He’s got two or three options, none of them very good. If he pushes his own platform, he will confirm to voters that he is way left of Biden and Trump. It won’t hurt Biden’s image all that much, but it may bleed a few die-hard voters away from voting in the fall. On the other hand, it will cost Bernie the rest of his moderate votes. If Bernie goes after Biden personally, it will give Trump’s side ammunition to use in the general election and hurt Biden’s chances. My guess is that Bernie will stick with his general critique of our current system, which will just drag the whole process along for another week or two. 

Breaking News 

The Los Angeles Opera has just announced that it is cancelling its March 14 performance of Roberto Devereux. A few days ago, they were going to soldier on bravely. But the momentum of school closures and statewide actions has obviously had its effect.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)