Politicians have to be careful what they say. Sure, an ill-chosen word can be a career-ending gaffe, but even worse, the bully pulpit of elected office can help spread dangerous and misguided ideas. Chris Christie and Barack Obama are both in the news Monday for comments about vaccinations, but while Christie’s ham-handed remarks have absorbed most of the backlash, the president’s well-intentioned ones may be more perilous.
Sunday, in a pre-Super Bowl interview, President Obama was asked about the measles outbreak that apparently began at Disneyland. As of Saturday, the CDC reported more than 100 cases in 14 states. "The science is, you know, pretty indisputable," Obama told NBC's Savannah Guthrie. "We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not .... You should get your kids vaccinated."
Monday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was asked about vaccines during a trip to England. Here's what he said:
We vaccinate ours [kids], and so, you know that’s the best expression I can give you of my opinion. You know it’s much more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official. And that’s what we do. But I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.
Ironically, Christie was speaking outside a facility owned by an American company that manufactures a nasal flu vaccine. He is being derided as a "vaxer," but his statement is a little more nuanced than he's getting credit for. Though not nearly as strong as what Obama said, the governor made his own views clear. And after fierce backlash, he partially walked back his comments in a statement, saying he only meant to point out that states have discretion in which vaccines they mandate.