What happened to Joe Biden could have happened to anyone. In fact, it happens all the time. Throughout human history. He (presumably) caught a cold from his one-and-half-year-old grandson. His theory is that his grandson “likes to kiss his pop.” As a result, he got a “frog in his throat.”
It’s just a cold! No reason to freak out!
Biden’s spokesperson says that he has taken recourse to therapeutics. He “is taking some over-the-counter medication and probably some cough drops and some tea, but otherwise he’s proceeding with his schedule,” said Jen Psaki.
It’s all so normal. So much part of life. There is no way to know if Biden is correct in his casual contact tracing. He might not have gotten the cold from his grandson but he could have. Any parent will tell you that the first child comes with a full year of household sniffles and sickness. The second one is not so bad because the parents have built up immunity. And so on.
But maybe Biden should not have been letting his grandson kiss on him? That’s absurd. He would gladly risk infection in exchange for which he obtains and grants affection. It’s part of the deal we have all made with pathogens: we do a dangerous dance with them in order to experience love, freedom, choice, and human rights.
So far there is nothing I’ve written above that is unusual. It’s the way we’ve always lived. No one thinks the grandson should be punished for passing on a cold – which by the way can be a Rhinovirus or a Coronavirus. No one thinks that Biden should have avoided all contact with his family. There is no moral panic here. No one accuses anyone of aggression. It’s just life as we’ve always known it. Our immune systems have evolved to make it all possible.
So too with Deborah Birx’s desire to see her mother and take a trip, during the exact time last year when she was demanding that everyone cease all travel. The problem here is not the normal desire to see family. The problem is the hypocritical compulsion imposed on everyone else.
Biden’s behavior here is a beautiful illustration of the implicit and endogenous social contract under which we have all agreed to live. We live in the presence of pathogens, regrettable to be sure, but just what we’ve come to deal with. The payoff from the normal exposure to disease that we experience in the course of life is that we get stronger and more resistant to disease – plus we get to live normal lives.
When we do get sick, we reach for the things that make us better. We take cough drops. We sleep more. We have chicken soup. We starve a cold and feed a fever – or maybe it is the reverse, I forget. Whatever, we try to get well so that we can go on with life.
My apologies that this article is dreadfully boring so far. But boring is striking because, for some reason, we decided to forget all of this for the last two years in dealing with a new virus that is associated with a 99.8% survival rate, the victims of which tend to die at an age at which people normally die.
In short, we decided to panic ourselves into abolishing rights and liberties, while throwing out all inherited wisdom about infection, immunity, therapeutics, and viruses in general, not to mention all rights and traditional law. Talk of therapeutics for Covid was all-but banned. In short, we went utterly crazy, causing tremendous harm to public health, and the social and cultural fabric.
What strikes me about Biden and the frog in his throat is how casually and quickly he and his administration take recourse to traditional wisdom about viruses, even as the same administration is promoting the upending of life as we’ve known it all for a virus that is a near cousin of the very thing he caught from his grandson. And yet his spokesperson draws on what we’ve always known in order to calm people down.
I don’t blame Biden or his defenders for their common sense regarding infection. I blame them for not applying this traditional wisdom consistently for other viruses.
Still, the response to Biden’s infection should give us all hope that we can get back to normal, stop stigmatizing the sick, stop calling people who recover from Covid “survivors,” stop avoiding each other as if the human person is nothing but a vector of disease spread, and stop with this incredible cruel demand that every person separate from everyone else in the name of controlling a virus.
How many children have been forcibly kept from seeing grandma and grandpa over the last two years? How many lovers have been prevented from being together because they live in different disease jurisdictions? How many families have been shattered by Deborah Birx’s preposterous demand that we all live in separation from everyone else? How many people have been arrested for violating curfew? How many writers have been censored merely for saying that this Coronavirus should be treated like a normal pathogen?
Millions. Tens of millions. Billions across the world. We’ve paid a ghastly price for freaking out in all the ways in which Biden himself has not during his bout with a cold.
Nonetheless, this should give us hope that the old wisdom is not entirely extinguished. Some things are more important than disease avoidance, even for old people. We all need connection, and with that comes some risk. Our biology has evolved to deal with it. Indeed, the more exposure we experience (whether that means slobbering kids or mixing with people from all over the world in the commercial marketplace), the stronger we get and the longer the lives we live.
Freedom and human choice – plus affection, love, family, and normal life, even art, play, sports, and crowds – are all possible in the presence of infectious disease. Indeed, all these things are essential, else life is not worth living. That’s the real lesson here. May Biden’s throat frog – likely contracted through exposure – teach us at least this much.