Return to Transcripts main page
Re-Engaging In The Midst Of An Election; Bob Kerrey: Allow Cellphone And Computer Voting For Primaries; Officials Weigh Coronavirus Surveillance Options; Apple And Google Want To Use Your Phone As A COVID Tracking Machine; How Should Biden Pick His Running Mate?; Should We Never Shake Hands Again? Aired 9-10a ET
Aired April 11, 2020 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Re-engaging in the midst of an election. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. What's the right amount of health risk to take as a nation to get the economy restarted and how do we protect democracy? Those are the most critical issues of our time.
There's no black and white answer to the first. It's not an issue to be determined by a simple calculus of cases or casualties. The best framing that I have seen came from Dr. Gabriel Leung, an infectious disease epidemiologist and Dean of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong writing for "The New York Times."
Here's what he said this week, "The COVID-19 pandemic can be only prevented from resurging when at least half the world's population has become immune to the new virus and that can happen in only one of two ways: After enough people have been infected and have recovered or have been inoculated with a vaccine. Allowing the first option to happen unmitigated would be a humanitarian catastrophe. It would mean very many deaths, mostly among the elderly and poor people with limited access to health care.
The second option -- developing a safe, effective vaccine and making enough of it for everybody -- is a goal at least one year, perhaps two years away. Massive lockdowns and distancing measures cannot be sustained that long."
What that means is that we must curb our enthusiasm for an overnight return to normalcy. Whether the next milestone is May 1, June 1 or something else, we need to prepare for a series of cycles, during which restrictions will be repeatedly lessened and applied based on a balance of health and economic interests. Dr. Leung said the challenge is a three-way tug-of-war between combating the disease, protecting the economy and keeping society on an even keel.
Speaking of which, another consideration, as noted by Attorney General Bill Barr, is the need to protect personal liberty. Barr said this week the following, "When this period of time at the end of April expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have and not just tell people to go home and hide under the bed, but allow them to use other ways, social distancing and other means, to protect themselves. I do think during the emergency, appropriate, reasonable steps are fine." He makes a good point and inconsistencies abound. You can go for a walk here in Philadelphia with your third cousin, but not your best friend. You're discouraged to leave your crowded apartment in New York City if you want to stay at your own home at the Jersey Shore and you can't rent it to somebody else nor can you leave your crowded apartment in San Francisco to stay in your condo in Marin County. You can buy beer or soda in Pennsylvania, but not booze and you can't file a lawsuit even in a county that permits electronic filings of legal papers.
What were once unquestionable, constitutional rights are trampled in the rush to hide, as Bill Barr put it, underneath our bed. One day when the history of these days are written, maybe we'll regret the over-broad nature of much of what we're forced to not do.
And amidst this uncertainty, we will select a president. One thing we should all agree on now is the need for a framework that ensures an orderly election. We can ill afford a national limitation of what we saw in Wisconsin last Tuesday, people standing in close proximity, some wearing masks, some not waiting to exercise the franchise.
All Americans deserve an alternative to showing up in person in the midst of a pandemic and this is not an issue whose resolution should be guided by whether one party benefits or the other, rather the objective must be to provide for the greatest number of citizens to safely participate.
People have already died for our right to vote, but nobody in the United States should have to risk death in order to vote. Might the solution be to enable mobile voting by cell phone or internet connected computer? My next guest thinks so. He's a Medal of Honor recipient, former governor and United States senator from Nebraska, a current board member of the Renew Democracy Initiative. This is Bob Kerrey. Governor, thanks for being here. Tell us about the Mobile Voting Project, MVP.
BOB KERREY (D), FORMER NEBRASKA GOVERNOR: Well, first of all, the Mobile Voting Project has been demonstrated to work. I mean, the number one concern that you've got is security. Can you be -- can you hack into it? And you can -- you can make certain that it can't be hacked into. We should be -- we should maybe do several demonstrations between now and November.
One thing that's absolutely certain in November is there's still going to be Americans with undiagnosed COVID-19 and that's the problem. I mean, Bill Barr says I'm limiting your freedoms. First of all, nobody's going and hiding under the bed. That's an extravagant claim.
I mean, the fact is, you know, we maybe have found (ph) -- if you're lucky, we've tested 10 million people out of 330 million and when you test, the question then becomes how many are positive and right now, close to one out of five without symptoms are positive. So you go back out to your question, if you're -- if you're going to -- if you're standing in line and voting, you can almost count on a significant fraction of the people standing in line are going to have this COVID- 19 virus.
And the -- and the -- and the question then becomes, you know, do you want to get infected when you go vote and maybe you won't die, maybe you won't end up with severe respiratory distress and die of the consequence, but the probabilities are not comforting. So this Mobile Voting Project has demonstrated in a number of districts that it actually works.
And I think, Michael, one of the things that we have to look for is opportunity to change things and improve them that we might not be able to do were we not in a crisis and I think the way we conduct our elections is an exceptionally good example of that. I actually think technology will enable us to have redundant paper, redundant capacity and get a much more reliable way to conduct a national election.
SMERCONISH: You heard me quote the epidemiologist from Hong Kong. I'm convinced. I'm a layperson, but reading in about the science, it seems to me that the machines are not just going to get all turned on. I mean the theoretical machines of business and that we are going to have a series of cycles for the foreseeable future until there's a vaccine for the virus. So we need to plan for that and come up with an alternative means of ensuring that people should go out and safely vote or vote in the privacy of their home.
Here's my question for you. I can hear Americans watching this and saying wait a minute, how do we protect against a Russian hack? Or wait a minute, in Iowa, the software was problematic and they couldn't tabulate the Iowa caucus votes? So convince us that this is the way to go?
KERREY: Well, I'm not sure I can convince you. I mean, the fact is the Mobile Voting Project has used experts in hacking and particularly cyber warfare to make certain that there's -- that there's zero interference to the process. So I think it could have some -- at a minimum, we ought to do a couple demonstrations between now and November.
Maybe there's going to be, you know, things that we can work out to improve the process, but in terms of security, I'm 100 percent certain. We do millions of secure phone calls every single year in the national security business with no evidence of hacking occurring. So you can make it secure.
I know it sounds like oh, gosh, this is, you know, like Star Wars stuff and people are worried about interference, but we can do demonstration projects. We at least got to do demonstration projects between now and November. And by the way, delusional --
SMERCONISH: OK. Let me ask --
KERREY: One of the -- one of the delusional moments is thinking the Democratic party's leadership thinking we're going to have a convention in Milwaukee. Would you like to go to Milwaukee with 340 delegates from New York and 400 from California and 20 from Detroit and 30 from New Orleans? I don't think so. So --
SMERCONISH: On the subject --
KERREY: -- at a minimum, we've got to start thinking about how we're going to vote differently.
SMERCONISH: On the subject of mail-in balloting, which is not what you're discussing, but something that senators Klobuchar and Wyden among others have advocated, on the subject of mail-in balloting, President Trump said something this week that I want to show because I can only imagine what he would say about electronic balloting. Roll the tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, mail ballots, they cheat, OK? People cheat. Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they're cheaters. They go and collect them, they're fraudulent in many cases. You got to vote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Governor Kerrey, I'm sure he'd say the same thing about the Mobile Voting Project.
KERREY: Yes, but --
SMERCONISH: What would be your response if he did?
KERREY: Look, I pay attention to language. There's no evidence that mail -- that mail-in voting is -- maybe you get some fraudulent activity, but we've had that since the beginning of the democracy. I mean, President Trump, had he been at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, he probably would have opposed elections.
How can we conduct elections fairly? There's always going to be fraudulence, people buying off voters and so forth. He probably would have voted no on the Constitution as a consequence of that.
Democracy is vulnerable when you -- when you have an election. No question of that, but you can't just throw language out like that to talk people out of trying to improve the process and that's what we're trying to do and I personally think that mail-in ballots, in many ways, it's like 19th century technology.
Why not use 21st century technology? Why not ask people that know how to do this, can you conduct either an SMS vote or a -- or a computer vote? Can you conduct it? And I think they're going to come back and say absolutely yes.
And by the way, the Congress is going to have to figure this out. The average age of Congress is 60.
Now, I know many people say well, that's fine. Who cares if they -- if they get sick? Well, we do care. We don't want Congress to be in an environment where they're not able to cast their votes. They're not going to be safe going back in there in the month of April or the month of May or maybe not even the month of June because, again, part of the problem right now is instead of using the numbers presented to us by scientists and people who actually know what's going on, we're using polling data to decide what to do and it's the worst thing to use when you're dealing with a health crisis like this.
SMERCONISH: Governor Kerrey, thank you so much. I'm hoping to spark a national conversation about how we ensure the greatest level of participation while keeping everybody safe and I think your idea, Bradley Tusk's idea, this MVP is worthy of that conversation. So thank you.
KERREY: Good. You're welcome. Nice to talk to you.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish or go to my Facebook page. Let me hear from you during the course of the program. From Facebook, Catherine, what do we have? "You're full of crap. The Democrats are pushing mail-in voting because they can easily cheat."
Robert, may I direct you, if you're willing to engage in a reading exercise, to today's "New York Times" which analyzes exactly the issue of whether it's really to the detriment of Republicans when you go in an increased participation, namely mail-in balloting direction and you'll be surprised, if you take the time to read, your party won't be harmed in the process.
That's the issue. Like everybody looks at this and instead of saying what's fair? What's the most beneficial way to encourage participation and keep us safe? Instead everybody puts on their cape, whether it's red or blue, and decides, hm, is this for or against my party and then weighs in accordingly and I think that's terrible.
I want to know what you think. Go to my website at Smerconish.com this hour and answer this week's survey question. Cannot wait to see the outcome. Will coronavirus kill the handshake? Now, getting rid of the custom is easier said than done. Just watch the Dutch Prime Minister eat his own words here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK RUTTE, DUTCH PRIME MINISTER: From now, we are stopping shaking hands. You can shake feet, touch elbows as you wish. I see in schools practical variants with the exception of shaking hands. Oh sorry, we can't do that anymore. Sorry, sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Still to come, I will talk to a U.S. senator and gastroenterologist who says a national registry for coronavirus is needed to help track immunity, but other ideas are taking tracking a step further. Would you be willing to give Google and Apple permission to use your phone as a COVID tracking machine? One state is even using cell phone data to make sure that people are adhering to social distancing measures. Is this all going a bit too far?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:15:00]
SMERCONISH: Information about who may or may not be immune to coronavirus could be valuable for helping curb the spread, but is that an invitation for Big Brother to monitor personal information? Apple and Google say that they're teaming up on ways to trace the spread of the coronavirus. Starting next month, iOS and Android systems will release software that allows health officials to gather data on the whereabouts of users. To be clear, the companies say that you will have to voluntarily opt-in in order to participate in the program.
And New Mexico's governor says the state is using cell phone data as a way to gauge whether residents are adhering to social distancing. Attorney General Bill Barr expressed concerns to "Fox News" over mechanisms being used to track the virus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL BARR, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: Concerned about a slippery slope in terms of continuing encroachments on personal liberty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: So where is the line? Joining me now to discuss is Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. He's also a gastroenterologist and has advocated for the government to set up national registries similar to those for childhood diseases. Senator, thank you for coming back. You noted here last week that a successful strategy combining herd immunity with social distancing for the vulnerable requires that the authorities know and record who is and isn't immune. So how would that work?
SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): Yes. So it actually builds upon current systems. We actually do not need to create anything different. There's a way to either check the nasal swab to see if someone's infected or soon to be a blood test to see if someone has previously been infected. That establishes if you are immune.
You put it in the existing registries we have, we all use. When my wife gets her chicken pox shot, it's entered into an online registry, it's HIPAA protected, you put that information in, now the individual knows it, she or he can show it to their employer, say, listen, I'm immune, I have a little bit more freedom to work where you wish me to work.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Fauci yesterday spoke of certificates of immunity. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It's one of those things that we talk about when we want to make sure that we know who the vulnerable people are and not. This is something that's being discussed. I think it might actually have some merit under certain circumstances.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: So it sounds like he's on the same page. What then would be the mechanism for someone to obtain a so-called certificate of immunity?
CASSIDY: Well, keep in mind it's important to know who's not immune and who is immune.
If you're a diabetic hypertensive who's 60-years-old, you want to know if you're immune or not. If you're immune, most likely you have more freedom to go to the store without wearing a mask, but if you are not immune, by golly, you're going to wear a mask, you're going to wash your hands and you're going to do everything to protect yourself.
So if you just do broad testing, voluntary, but broad testing and those who are immune know to protect themselves -- excuse me. Those who are not immune know to protect themselves and those who are immune can care for patients without wearing personal protective equipment, not fearing to be infected or to infect others, that's where we need to be.
SMERCONISH: Senator, what thoughts do you have on Google and Apple teaming up to develop a tracing mechanism like I described?
CASSIDY: Yes. It's voluntary, but it also allows somebody to protect themselves. Everybody's concerned about whatever. I'm concerned about not getting sick. If I want -- if I want to voluntarily opt in and then I can see, hm, I've been exposed to somebody who might have been immune, that may change my behavior or if I can look and see, hey --
SMERCONISH: The --
CASSIDY: Go ahead.
SMERCONISH: No, no. Please finish your answer.
CASSIDY: And so I think that this actually is a mechanism by which the individual can assess their own risk and that is what is important for an individual.
SMERCONISH: Yesterday, the president in his presser addressed the subject of herd immunity. Let's listen to a little of what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If we did the herd, if we went with the herd, as they say, we would have had potentially -- I mean, you see the charts. Nobody knows. Nobody will ever know, fortunately, because we're going to be substantially less than the minimum. I certainly hope, unless something happens. That would be tragic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Explain the science of herd immunity in layterms and tell me do we know if we're close to it?
CASSIDY: Yes. Working backwards, we're probably not close to it yet. Herd immunity works this way. The virus goes out, each person infected infects two to three more who then infect two to three more who then infect two to three more, but if the virus goes out and I'm infected and wait, this person is already immune and that person is already immune they block me, if you will, from infecting other people.
The herd of people who are immune protect those who are not. Well known factor. It varies from 40 percent of the population to 85 percent. Somewhere in that range is where you get immunity depending upon who is immune.
SMERCONISH: And it sounds like until we have widespread testing, we really can't know whether we've established that level.
CASSIDY: That is totally true. Now, you can know on an individual level that perhaps I am immune or I am not, but for a community, you need to know widespread. Now, think about it. For travelers to come back to New York, they need to know that there's a certain level of immunity in New York.
So really to recover our economy, the individual needs to know whether she or he is immune or not, then the society needs to know because I'm not going to take a trip to a place which has lots of COVID unless I, one, know I'm immune or at least have a sense that the person waiting on me is immune or there's herd immunity in general. It's critical to returning to our normal economy.
SMERCONISH: OK. Final thoughts so that we can spare both of us a lot of hate mail. HIPAA remains in place for the registry that Senator Bill Cassidy is discussing?
CASSIDY: Not only that, the registry already exists and it is already HIPAA-protected. So if you were born after the mid-90s, all of your vaccinations are already in it. When you go to college, you have a portal. You online, pull it down, give it to the colleagues, they know you're vaccinated for measles. It already exists and we're so comfortable with it that most people don't even know about it.
SMERCONISH: I think that probably spared 40 percent of the response, so thank you for that.
CASSIDY: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying on my Smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages. Where does this come from? Facebook I think. "Creepy technology to get an alert for, 'You're at risk for COVID,' because you may have been exposed. If weren't already on the edge, geez, this is troubling."
Hey, Donna, just be reminded of relative -- I think you're talking to Google and Apple. You have to opt in. So the only way that you know that you're in the company of me, right? Someone who's had COVID-19 is if I voluntarily enter that data into my smartphone into that app so that you would be on alert.
I appreciate the fact that they want to get in the game. I would love to have the brightest minds from Silicon Valley engage in the process of confronting this virus. Whether this is the way to go, I don't know. We'll continue to follow it.
Up ahead, it's VP-stakes time. With Bernie stepping back, Joe Biden has to now focus on which running mate will best unite the party. What is the process? Who better to ask than John Podesta who supervised the running mate selection for Hillary Clinton in 2016? So what lessons did he learn?
Plus, a month ago, Boris Johnson was ignoring advice about handshakes and he wound up in the ICU for several days. Should we all be considering avoiding the practice long-term? Would that fundamentally change American culture?
Which leads me to this week's survey question on Smerconish.com. Will coronavirus kill the handshake? This reminds me of the opening scene of a great movie, 1988's "Primary Colors," based on Joe Klein's book by the way, which centered on a Bill Clinton-like presidential candidate's way with glad-handing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, I've seen him do it a million times now, but I can't tell you how he does it. He might put that left hand on your elbow or up on your bicep like he's doing now. Very basic move. He's interested in you. He's honored to meet you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: With Bernie Sanders suspending his campaign this week, Joe Biden's most pressing concern is uniting the Democratic Party. All eyes now on the so-called veepstakes. Although governors Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom have been getting national attention for their handling of the pandemic, they were already eliminated from consideration. That's because back on March 15, the former VP publicly committed to selecting a female running mate.
The "Washington Post" identified no fewer than 11 it thought worthy including Biden's rivals Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren and Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer. So what is the process?
Who better to ask than the person who did it the last time around, John Podesta ran the running mate selection process for Hillary Clinton in 2016. He was the chairman of her campaign. He's now the founder and director of the Center for American Progress. Thanks so much for being here.
I'm not interested in handicapping this year's crop but I'm really interested in the process. And here's my first thought. It's an honor to be considered but it's awfully invasive, right?
JOHN PODESTA, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN/FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Well, it gets to be quite invasive. I think at this stage of the process they're probably just looking at public records. I'm sure there's -- the vice president said he has a short list. I think that short list is probably pretty long maybe 10, 11, 12 people.
They're probably doing a -- Bob Bauer, the former White House counsel, and Dana Remus his campaign counsel are probably working with a team of researchers to take a look. And answering the first big question was, can they help you get elected president? Can they help you win that big prize? And is there anything in their background that might cause you to stumble?
Think Sarah Palin. They're going to take a look at that through public records eventually when it gets down to a shorter list. They're going to go through a deep dive. Go through all of their financial records. The candidates themselves, their spouses will have to work with a team of lawyers, maybe over Zoom or remotely to go through their financial records. You know, everything that a cabinet secretary might go through and of that.
And ultimately, it comes to Vice President Biden's decision about who he has the best chemistry with. Who does he want to spend time with? Who does he think will add to the campaign and balance the ticket?
SMERCONISH: As I understand your process in 2016, as the list was being whittled down, you got to a level where you, John Podesta, would conduct a one-on-one interview. And if that's true, I'm curious to know, were they pitching themselves? Or were they coy?
PODESTA: Well, actually, Secretary Clinton met with them mostly at her house in Washington, D.C. and I was present for those. And those were serious interviews. I think they were really about what -- what -- did they align strategically in terms of what their vision for the country was? How did they -- how did they fit?
You know, remember -- and I think this will be particularly important to Joe Biden. They're going to have to spend a lot of time with this person if they get elected. And they have to be their partner, I think Biden really value that. And I think that Hillary was looking for that in a running mate. Who am I going to be in sync with, in terms of governing the country, but also a different sort of chemistry which is who's going to feel right on the campaign trail. And I think he'll be looking for both of those qualities.
He's got a lot of people to pick from. He's been out on the campaign trail with a lot of the people that you mentioned. Been in debates with them, has gotten to know them a little bit better so he'll have an instinct for it. But I think at the end of the day, those interviews, the time spent in
-- eventually, I think for the last -- when it got really to a small list, for example, Tim and Anne Kaine spent time with President Clinton and Hillary in Chappaqua. So it was a very thorough process, I think, and you're looking for what's the right level of energy. In this year, it's so crazy with the condition we're in.
Maybe he'll be looking for a few different things, did he have a big enough personality to breakthrough on social media or can you campaign remotely. By and large, I think they'll want to feel like they're in sync in terms of how they want to present themselves, how they want to govern the country.
And what's the juxtaposition against a president who doesn't listen to the experts, who sort of governs by whimsy. And I think he'll be looking for someone who projects that they're solid, that they can listen, that they can make good decisions that they can govern with him.
SMERCONISH: Final question, is the conventional timetable, the dance, leading up to the convention, now out the window? Is there anything that politically speaking precludes Joe Biden from naming his selection much sooner than we're accustomed to?
PODESTA: No, I think he actually -- I'm sure they're probably thinking about that. It's one of the few things that he has that he can make news on between now and the convention.
PODESTA: So, I think they'll probably be taking a hard look at that.
SMERCONISH: And also, I said that was my final question. This time, I mean it. So, Secretary Clinton got to make the good news call to Tim Kaine, right? Am I correct --
SMERCONISH: -- that you made the runner-up calls, and if so, what did you say?
PODESTA: She made a few. And I made probably more than a few. Because there were still, you know, half a dozen people left on the list by that time. And I told them that she had gone the other way and admired them all and wanted them out there campaigning for us. And they were pretty good natured about it. And, indeed, spent the fall campaigning on her behalf.
SMERCONISH: Thank you so much for the insight. That was terrific.
PODESTA: Sure. No problem.
SMERCONISH: Let's check in on your tweets and Facebook comments. Again, from Facebook. What is Twitter shut down today? I want Andrew Cuomo for Biden's running mate. It's our only hope. I wish Biden hadn't made the commitment to pick a woman -- that's my realistic female -- ahh coming from Mary Lou.
You know what's interesting. I'm not -- I said this on radio yesterday. I'm not surprised that the calculus for the former veep is that he needs to select a female. And would be -- would have been surprised not the least by his collection of a female candidate. My surprise was that he -- that he tipped his hand and said that was the direction in which he was going.
That, I hadn't anticipated. But you're right, he eliminates not only Cuomo, he eliminates Gavin Newsom in the process. But having gone through that primary process, if in the end it's two white guys on that stage, is that really putting the Democrats' salable ticket best foot first? I don't know. I don't know.
Up ahead as the nation has learned to social distance, one of the first rituals that we lost was greeting people with a handshake. What if that change becomes permanent? That is this week's survey question. Please go to Smerconish.com right now, cast a ballot.
"Will coronavirus kill the handshake?"
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE: As a society, just forget about shaking hands. We don't need to shake hands. We've got to break that custom. Because as a matter of fact, that is really one of the major ways that you can transmit a respiratory-borne illness.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: As social distancing has become America's fastest way to suppress the coronavirus and save lives one of the first things to be eliminated was the handshake.
As the period of keeping safe extends, medical experts including Dr. Fauci are saying we should continue to avoid shaking hands. Why do we do it anyway? Is there any good reason to ever bring it back?
Joining me now is Steven Pinker. He's a psychology professor at Harvard, author of the books that include "How the Mind Works." He's also been recognized as one of "Time's" 100 most influential people in the world today.
Dr. Pinker, thanks so much for being here. If I were to meet you in person and we were to fist-bump, why might I be inclined to laugh?
STEVEN PINKER, PSYCHOLOGY PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Well, the fist bump feels like an aggressive gesture. Putting our hand into a fist and a quick staccato gesture towards someone else is kind of like preparation for fighting. And just to make it completely clear that that's not why we are punching each other. The little laugh signals it's all in fun, we really are friendly.
SMERCONISH: In "The Harvard Gazette," I read an analysis by you of talking as to where the handshake comes from, relying on Darwin. Will you give us the benefit of that thinking?
PINKER: Yes, Darwin paid close attention to signal both aggression and friendliness or reconciliation to the animal world, and he noticed, for example, that when two dogs face each other aggressively, the head will be tilted forward. The shoulders will be rigid. The back will be straight. The tail will be pointed rigidly behind it.
Now, what happens when a dog tries to be friendly? Well it arranges its body in the exact opposite configuration to an aggressive posture. The back will be arched. The head will be down. The dog will be looking up. And the tail will be moving side by side, namely, the dog wags its tail. The reason being, that it's the opposite gesture to an aggressive one.
Noted that in humans, too, friendly gestures tend to be the muscle for muscle, joint for joint opposite of aggressive gestures. If you imagine like two guys squaring off to a fight say in a hockey game. Now imagine every limb in your body does the exact opposite.
So instead of your hands clenched in fists your arms are open and your palms are upright. Instead of keeping a wary distance you approach each other, you expose vulnerable parts of your body, your neck, your lips, and so on. Not just general trend, the push, in general, makes a friendly gesture feel friendly, but then on top of that, every culture has rules. As to which of those gestures you can get away with.
And the reason is that they are kind of ambiguous, you never know whether a kiss is, you know, might be a little sexual. Whether if it's two men, it might be a little too homosexual, homophobic culture. So the culture kind of lays down the rules as to what you can expect.
And we all know if we travel, it's (ph) different (ph) from culture to culture. Where I come from in Quebec, you never give a peck on the cheek. It has to be one peck on each cheek. But it couldn't be a kiss on the lips. For men, it can be a handshake.
Recently men started hugging each other. In other cultures they can hold hands. And these rituals can change over time. One way we've become aware of that is look what happened to poor Joe Biden. He came of age in an era where politicians were supposed to press the flesh, to show that they were not aloof, that they were close to their constituents. Now the rules have kind of changed especially when it comes to a man and woman, and he has been accused of being too handsy kind of caught in time as the rules change.
But no one decides. That's the thing. They don't have a commissioner of social rituals. It's kind of a grassroots phenomenon and it's very hard to predict when there will be a tipping point. Although I think it's safe to say that the handshake may be doomed if the current contagion continues, if the coronavirus doesn't -- yes.
SMERCONISH: The clip that I showed earlier, I don't have time now to run it again now, but of the Dutch prime minister in one breath saying we've got to stop this practice of shaking hands. And then immediately thereafter, when he concludes his remarks, greeting one of his health representatives with a handshake I think displays just how difficult it will be to get away from this tradition.
PINKER: Well, you know what will help it along, we also have a sense of disgust that we've -- that always kind of trades off against these rituals. If you start to imagine someone's hand just kind of crawling with germs. If that's kind of your default image, then the tradition of shaking hands could go away quite quickly.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Pinker, that was great, as always. Thank you so much.
PINKER: Thanks for having me.
SMERCONISH: Let's check in on your tweets and Facebook comments. What do we have -- Facebook. We're five for five from Facebook.
End of the handshake? Did it end after 1918? Sars? H1N1? Ebola? People's memories -- did it end after the Germans invaded Pearl Harbor? Oh, wait that was "Animal House."
I don't know, Sean. Here's my prediction. I think it's going to become a red state, blue state kind of thing. I may be wrong but I could see the tradition of handshaking continuing more in red states like, yes, we're going to continue to shake hands. Let those folks in New York City and out in Los Angeles on the left coast they can hug each other or kiss each other, whatever they do, we're going to continue to shake hands. There could be a divide in the country like that. There's a divide in the country on everything else, why not handshaking?
I'm still trying to come up with the alternative. I'm feeling comfortable with the nod. Hey, how are you doing?
Still to come your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. And we'll give you the final result of the survey question. Go voter right now on this one at Smerconish.com.
"Will Coronavirus kill the handshake?"
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE KLEIN, COLUMNIST (voice-over): I've seen him do it a million times now, but I can't tell you how he does it.
SMERCONISH (voice-over): I love this movie.
KLEIN: He might put that left hand on your elbow, or up on your bicep, like he's doing now. Very basic move.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: You know that's supposed to be Bill Clinton, right? That's Joe Klein as Anonymous who wrote "Primary Colors". Then it was John Travolta, that's Travolta playing the Clinton role and showing the mastery that President Clinton had in greeting people. Does it continue? We're about to find out.
How did you respond to the survey question this week at Smerconish.com? Here's what we were asking, "Will Coronavirus kill the handshake?"
Survey says -- wow, very close with a lot of voting. It hardly matters. We're evenly divided unless if we're lopsided I don't know that I would take much away from it. But 52 percent say yes.
Here's some of what else came in during the course of the program. What else do we have from social media?
Smerconish, how will dating look? No kisses, no hugs? Ask --
Yes, I'm long out of that game but I was thinking -- it's funny you should bring that up. I was thinking when Senator Cassidy was talking about creating a registry, some people may only want to date if you're in the registry and you have a clean bill of health.
Here's another one from social media. What else do we have?
"The only thing a handshake does is hurt arthritic hands and reveal wishy/washy personalities."
Keri, I was raised like Pink Floyd, firm hand shake, sudden look in the eyes and an easy smile as they say, I think, "Dogs," in the "Animals" album. You've got to give that hand shake and look at a person's eye. I've always found it to be a very valuable tool to size somebody up, but maybe it goes by the wayside.
Happy Passover, happy Easter everybody. Stay healthy. We'll see you back here next week.
CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: I want to wish you all a good morning. Those of you who are here in the U.S. as well as around the world it is Saturday, April 11th. I'm Christi Paul.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell.