No one can claim that Mike Pence isn’t a hands-on Vice-President. Here he is today, positioning Admiral Polowczyk on the podium. But this is a time when body language speaks volumes – perhaps even louder than words. If you watch the daily briefings by the Governors in New York and New Jersey, social distancing is carefully practiced on the podium. None of the participants are within six feet of one another. Yet at the White House, until the past few days, participants of the Coronavirus Task Force were shoulder-to-shoulder, no doubt to show solidarity and unity, which is reassuring at some level.
While I appreciate the political ramifications, social distancing has been cited repeatedly by Drs. Fauci and Birx as the single most important factor in halting he spread of COVID-19 in addition to washing one’s hands with soap. If the message of social distancing is important to model to the American people, I can think of no better place to do it it than on this grand stage. In fact, during the briefing, Vice-President Pence thanked Americans at large for following the guidelines on social distancing. Yet here is Dr. Birx standing well within six feet of a fellow presenter.
When I mentioned this on a Facebook post the other day, someone responded that he was sure the individuals on the Task Force had all been tested for COVID-19 and were negative. Well … we don’t know that, because the public health messaging has been that one doesn’t get tested unless there are signs and symptoms of the disease. And my hunch is that if that were the case, the White House wouldn’t likely miss the opportunity to share that reassuring message and note that it’s only with such knowledge that social distancing guidelines can be relaxed in small groups such as the Task Force. Not to mention that each member of the Task Force is interacting with people outside the Force on a daily basis.
Ironically, in contrast, the pool of reporters attending the White House daily briefings from the Task Force are well-spaced.
My intent in pointing this out has has been because I care about our leadership, and to note that the Coronavirus Task Force is losing an opportunity to model the importance of social distancing. And finally, today, one of the reporters toward the end of the briefing posed that very question to President Trump. He asked if the President wasn’t concerned about standing so close to the Vice-President on the podium. The President’s answer? Aside from noting that their test results were negative a few days ago (which the reporter pointed out wasn’t reassuring for their status today), President Trump explained: “We have this tiny platform, and I’d love it to be wider”. Come now, Mr. President. You, more than anyone else, know that perception is reality. I have confidence that you can figure this out. After all, it shouldn’t be just the members of the Task Force who are giving each others a pat on the back.