Obama’s Ebola Czar on What Strong Federal Response Looks Like
Why government needs to speak with one voice
A couple of weeks ago, I asked Larry Brilliant, the renowned epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox, what is the one message he would bring to the daily press briefing if he were president. He answered without hesitation: “I would begin the press conference by saying ‘Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Ron Klain … COVID czar.’ ”
In 2014, Barack Obama appointed Ron Klain as the White House Ebola response coordinator to fight what was then the world’s biggest health threat. Klain is not a doctor or public health expert; he’s a lawyer with deep experience in politics. He served as chief of staff to two vice presidents, Al Gore and Joe Biden. His day job is vice president and general counsel of Revolution, the investment fund of former AOL CEO Steve Case, but he’s still very much a political animal and is serving as an adviser to Biden’s presidential campaign.
The Ebola experience defines him. After an initial response that critics said was too slow, Obama took aggressive action, including deploying thousands of troops to West Africa and bringing on Klain as the Ebola czar. Those efforts were instrumental in averting a wider catastrophe. Klain now is firmly in the I-saw-this-coming camp, having testified in Congress and written op-eds trying to alert the country to pandemic danger, with more urgency earlier this year. He has become the face of Biden’s response to the crisis, specifically as a Khan Academy-esque lecturer in a four-minute video that highlighted the shortcomings of the Trump administration’s response to the epidemic with simple whiteboard drawings and presented Biden’s brief plan to address the disaster. (The unsurprising four-point plan includes more testing, emergency hospitals, more medical supplies, and financial aid.) More than 4 million people watched the video.
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