When Biden the wiseacre becomes Biden the wise man

As we all know, Vice President Joe Biden has a knack for ... putting delicate things indelicately, to put it delicately. He did it again yesterday in an appearance at Harvard, when he commiserated with the student-body vice president about the nature of their jobs.

But during that Harvard appearance, Biden also demonstrated the related knack of putting things bluntly that need to be said bluntly, in this case regarding the danger posed by terrorism. “The U.S. faces threats that require attention," he told the student audience, "but we face no existential threat to our way of life or security.”

He went on:

While we face an adaptive, resilient enemy, let's never forget that they're no match for an even more resilient and adaptive group of people, the American people, who are so much tougher, smarter, realistic and gutsy than their political leadership gives them credit for ...

We didn't crumble after 9/11; we didn't falter after the Boston Marathon.... Americans will never, ever stand down. We endure. We overcome. We own the finish line. So do not take out of proportion this threat to us. None of you are being taught to dive under your desks in drills dealing with the possibility of a nuclear attack."

That is called perspective, and it stands in stark contrast to those hoping to acquire influence, power, TV ratings and media exposure by scaring the holy baloney out of you. A loony in Oklahoma who gets fired and returns to his workplace to kill someone is not the first of a wave of Islamic terrorists coming here to chop all of our heads off. An Islamic community center in Augusta that tries to host a political debate is merely attempting to join the American mainstream, not infiltrate us with the intent to impose Sharia law and put our womenfolk in burkhas.

Oh, and a single Ebola patient now quarantined in Texas is not the beginning of a mass outbreak here in the United States. The impending flu season (last year, influenza killed more than 50 people in Georgia alone) is a far more realistic threat. I wonder: How many of those bewailing the Ebola threat and demanding that government do more to protect them have taken the simple precaution of getting themselves a flu shot?

Fear is a powerful and useful defense mechanism. But the real danger we face comes in losing our heads in a figurative rather than literal sense. That's when you do something dumb. My own rule of thumb is to fear the people who tell you that you just aren't fearful enough. That's when alarm bells ought to go off, because generally, they're trying to frighten you into an irrational decision that you will later come to deeply regret.

(See Iraq, invasion of).