If Trump Did Now What Obama Did During H1N1, There's No Telling How Many Might Die


It’s difficult to imagine the coronavirus outbreak being any more destructive than it’s already been.

I know the feeling: Unless you’re one of those millennials who’s decided to brave your local pub because, hey, what’s better for quickly stopping a massive viral outbreak than close contact and alcohol, you’re likely looking at a dire global milieu through a haze of Netflix and Twitter.

I don’t know if this is a cheery piece of information, however, but it’s true: If this virus had come down the pipe back in 2009, back when Barack Obama’s administration was dealing with the H1N1 virus, things would be much, much worse.

That was colloquially known as “swine flu,” a fact which would no doubt be controversial in a year where people are dying of a dreaded respiratory disease but we’re still spending a decent chunk of time in the cultural town square debating whether people reminding others where the disease originated (and which government’s denial allowed it to spread) is in fact xenophobic.

Disregarding whether or not PETA would have stuck up for our porcine friends a decade ago, however, I stumbled upon a Tuesday piece at PJ Media by Matt Margolis that got me thinking.

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There’s been plenty of talk about how the Obama administration acted back then, but Margolis managed to distill it in a pretty tight package — all while pointing out that the media is criticizing the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19 in a way they never would have dreamed of doing when Obama was president.

“The H1N1 outbreak originated in Mexico. Despite calls from members of Congress to do so, the Obama administration refused to restrict travel with Mexico or close the border. ‘Closing our nation’s borders is not merited here,’ said Obama’s DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano when a national health emergency was declared. She argued that closing the border or U.S. ports would have ‘no impact or very little’ in stopping or slowing the spread of the virus,” Margolis wrote.

This, as The Boston Globe pointed out, was when the World Health Organization was “raising its alert level to one notch below a full-fledged global pandemic.”

Well, we’re there now.

Do you support the Trump administration's response to COVID-19?

So picture COVID-19 striking in 2009.

Under Obama, we would have unrestricted travel to China before it becomes clear the extent of what was going on in Wuhan.

What happens then? How many more infected people would we have? What would “flattening the curve” look like when the curve was that much steeper? This was an example of a president not willing to put America first.

“Trump proved this theory wrong when he took the bold step of banning travel from China back in January,” Margolis wrote. “He got criticized for it, but a month later WHO experts conceded that it worked and it saved lives. While countries like Italy and Iran were experiencing catastrophic outbreaks, the United States was not.”

Our China policy worked. Our Europe policy, with some hitches, seems to be working. They were controversial when first announced, and yet they’re considered common sense now.

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Border closings weren’t the only problem that Margolis pointed out.

For instance, Trump declared a national emergency fairly early on.

In Obama’s case, his Department of Health and Human Services called it a “national health emergency” in April. They neglected to go to a “national emergency” until six months later, in October.

This, by the way, was two months after the WHO had declared the disease a pandemic.

“It can’t be a coincidence that Obama finally declared H1N1 a national emergency just days before a congressional oversight panel slammed the government’s response to the pandemic as inadequate and incomplete,” Margolis wrote.

“In addition to being ill-prepared, the Obama administration failed to achieve its vaccine production goals. The New York Times reported in January 2010 that the Obama administration ‘predicted in early summer [2009] that it would have 160 million vaccine doses by late October,’ but that ‘it ended up with less than 30 million,’ leading to a public outcry and congressional investigations.”

On the other hand, Trump declared a public emergency early on and, while a vaccine is a long way off, the National Institutes of Health and a private company called Moderna have tested the first potential vaccine for the disease a little over two months after the virus hit the U.S., which is a pretty impressive feat.

Granted, Trump wasn’t actually in the lab developing the vaccine or anything like that, but given the situation, his administration has looked prepared (with attendant stumbles, granted).

Oh, and by the by, you have Vice President Mike Pence directing the response. He’s done a credible job thus far. Imagine if the veep during the coronavirus scare was Joe Biden.

During the crisis in 2009, the veep was appearing on NBC’s “Today” show. Matt Lauer asked him, “If a member of your family came to you and said, ‘Look, I want to go on a commercial airliner to Mexico and back,’ within the next week, would you think it’s a good idea?”

Biden said no, but for dubious reasons.

“It’s not that it’s going to Mexico, it’s you’re in a confined aircraft,” Biden said. “When one person sneezes it goes all the way through the aircraft.”

Nor would he go on the subway, according to PolitiFact.

“If you’re out in the middle of a field and someone sneezes, that’s one thing; if you’re in a closed aircraft or closed container or closed car or closed classroom, it’s a different thing,” he said.

It was the sneeze going “all the way through the aircraft” that caught everyone’s attention. That’s very much unscientific, and something the administration had to disown, albeit not officially:

The Trump campaign tweet above came hours before Biden delivered a speech on how he would handle the coronavirus threat.

That speech ended up outlining a plan that sounded a lot like Donald Trump’s, because apparently Biden hasn’t learned any lessons in the 30-odd intervening years since that unfortunate Neil Kinnock incident.

The president, of course, made sure everyone was reminded of Biden’s performance:

It’s impossible to say Trump’s response has been perfect. His remarks in the early days of the virus will likely end up in campaign ads this November, ads that won’t have been taken out by the Trump campaign.

His Oval Office speech to the nation had its issues.

That said, the response so far has been effective and one hopes, from the looks of things, that the administration has put those early stumbles on COVID-19 behind them.

What they’re doing is certainly more effective than what one would guess the response would be by the Obama administration if this happened on their watch — because, well, something very close to it did.

COVID-19 will end up being different than the 2009 H1N1 outbreak for a panoply of reasons, but it’s not entirely clear Barack Obama would have known that.

You wouldn’t have seen Obama ban travel to and from China early on when the outbreak was at its worst there.

You wouldn’t have seen him ban travel from Europe until Europe itself became a big fan of limited movement.

And you would have had a vice president who, instead of heading up a task force designed to curb coronavirus, was out frightening pretty much everyone.

There’s not too much great news right now.

Even if your savings weren’t affected and you had a hedge against the stock market falling off a cliff thanks to the coronavirus standstill, you’re pretty much sitting at home right now, devoid of much human contact outside of your family and plowing through the entirety of “Parks and Recreation” for the second time.

However, if you want to play political football — which certainly seems to be the recreation of choice for much of Twitter these days — it’s worth noting the Obama administration fumbled its response to the swine flu in 2009.

That resulted in 12,469 deaths in the United States.

At present, we have 160 deaths.

That number will rise significantly, but given the severity of the illness, it shows hawkishness and calm beats ideology and scaremongering.

If Obama and Biden were the ones at the helm, who knows how many might die?

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture