Obama picks Ron Klain, political hack, as Ebola czar; do you feel...

Obama picks Ron Klain, political hack, as Ebola czar; do you feel safer now?

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Thinking about the new Ebola czar / Photo: 70023venus2009, used under Flickr Creative Commons license
Thinking about the new Ebola czar / Photo: 70023venus2009, used under Flickr Creative Commons license

WASHINGTON, October 18, 2014 — President Obama, concluding that the threat of Ebola in America is a managerial and political problem rather than a public health issue, appointed Ron Klain as his Ebola Czar.

Not Dr. Ron Klain, epidemiologist. Not Ron klain, MD, infectious disease specialist. This Ron Klain:

@WendyDavisTexas really making her case in #TexasDebates against @GregAbott_TX. Very impressive.

That would also be this one:

For years, I’ve taught a course at @Georgetown on political debates. Had never covered fans … until now. . #fangate #CongratsGovCrist

Klain previously worked as chief of staff to Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden. He was chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee during the nomination hearings for Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, chief legal counsel to Al Gore’s recount effort after the 2000 presidential election, a lobbyist for Fannie Mae before subprime mortgages exploded in the gut of America’s financial system, and a White House supporter of the Obama Administration’s $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra.

Klain’s official title is “Ebola response coordinator.”

His career so far has been as a lawyer, lobbyist and partisan political hack. He has no experience in public health and no background in medicine or science. His selection by Obama is a clear indication that Obama sees the problems in America’s response to Ebola as managerial. In particular, he clearly believes that failures at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and at Dallas’s Presbyterian Hospital were managerial failures.

There are managerial problems in the response so far to Ebola. The left hand seems not to know what the right hand is doing, there have been failures of communication, and the government message on Ebola has been inconsistent.

But the problems in our response have gone deeper than that. The Obama Administration, informed by the CDC, was emphatic that any hospital in America could handle Ebola cases. They underestimated the level of care that must be taken with the virus, and were unclear or wrong on the protocols that should be followed in dealing with it. They came late to the realization that the virus might be spread in aerosols fine enough to pass through the masks that were being used by healthcare workers. The CDC ignored the more stringent protective measures required by Medicins Sans Frontiers, neglected to send people to Dallas to observe measures there, and didn’t think to have patients transferred immediately to hospitals that were experienced and equipped in providing the high level of isolation necessary to contain Ebola.

None of these were managerial errors. They were basic errors of understanding of Ebola. And while American healthcare professionals can’t be faulted for their lack of practical experience in dealing with Ebola, there was a lack of prudent imagination in anticipating potential problems. The qualifications of Biden’s former speech writer and chief of staff to ensure a better scientific and medical response to Ebola are unclear. That may be because they are non-existent.

Then again, it is also unclear that America needs an Ebola czar who knows the difference between RNA and a Cuisinart. The crisis may be entirely in our heads. The CDC and White House have sent conflicting messages about the disease, and their sometimes incoherent messaging combined with an ever growing list of people who are being monitored have combined with sensationalized reporting to create a sense of crisis that is overblown.

Ebola is a highly infectious disease, but it is also a difficult disease to catch. While there will probably be other cases in the U.S., so far the only infections to take place on American soil have been two nurses who worked closely with Thomas Duncan, the Liberian man who died of Ebola in Dallas. In the late stages of the disease, there is a much greater chance of coming in contact with contaminated body fluids, but anyone in the late stages of the disease is too incapacitated to be a threat to anyone but caregivers and loved ones. Of all the other hundred-plus people who came or might have come into contact with Duncan, none have fallen ill with Ebola.

If an Ebola czar is politically necessary, the selection of one with serious medical and scientific credentials who could speak clearly and authoritatively on Ebola would have gone far to calm an over-anxious public. Obama’s choice of a political hack is simply fodder for political commentators and his political critics. It is not a serious response to a serious public health crisis, nor is it a smart political response to a manufactured crisis. It is a managerial response, from a president who has always been more comfortable as a manager than as a leader. It has no more significance than the creation of a faculty committee to explore the need for a new committee.

That is, it embodies everything that the Obama Administration’s critics have come to expect from it.


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