It seems like ages ago, but it was just September when much of the country was in the midst of a real freak-out over the Ebola virus. Many Republicans, seeing the African outbreak as a campaign issue, immediately started running attack ads intended to scare people, while some in media seemed a little too eager to label Ebola – let’s all say it together – “Obama’s Katrina.”
But one of the more memorable political moments came when Republicans expressed outrage that the White House had not yet named an “Ebola czar.” President Obama eventually agreed and asked Ron Klain to oversee and coordinate the federal response to the virus, which led to even more Republican outrage.
Too often, it seems as if we’re not supposed to reflect on instances in which GOP apoplexy turned out to be ridiculously wrong, but Michael Grunwald’s new interview with Klain is a reminder that the Republicans’ freak out last fall was not their finest hour.
GRUNWALD: When you were first announced, the immediate reaction, particularly on the right, was: “What a joke! Democratic hack!” There was the Twitter meme of people with more health care experience who were better qualified to be the Ebola coordinator, with pictures of George Clooney in his ER uniform and various Simpsons characters. What was your reaction to that?KLAIN: I’ve been around public life long enough to know that you’re going to take some licks if you’re in the public spotlight. I think people maybe had a misperception of what was needed. We had great medical advisers; the president was getting great advice from Dr. Fauci, from Dr. [Tom] Frieden, who runs the CDC [Centers for Disease Control], from a panoply of other medical experts. I think the White House was looking for someone to come in and do the very unglamorous, bureaucratic coordination it takes to produce a response of this size. I think folks here knew I had done that with the Recovery Act and saw this as a very similar kind of project. It was taking a 14-or-15-agency response, a lot of great people, and making it all work together, figuring out where the seams were, figuring out what policy decisions needed to get made. But I understand the public perception was a little different, and, you know, that just is what it is.
Yes, and “what it is” serves as an example of the right having a breakdown for no particular reason.
Even at the time, Klain’s expertise in government, specifically knowing how to navigate the federal bureaucracy, seemed like an obvious plus. As we discussed, if the president were hiring someone to conduct medical research on a virus, hiring an expert in infectious disease would be the right call, but the goal of this policy coordinator was to coordinate policy.
And now we know that Ron Klain did that very well.
What would be nice at this point is if there were some accountability for those who were wrong. Are the Republicans who condemned the president’s choice of Klain willing to concede that their hysteria was misplaced? Are the pundits who labeled this “Obama’s Katrina” prepared to say they were mistaken? Are the members of Congress who demanded a travel ban to West Africa still working on that bill they promised?
Has Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) apologized for his bizarre Ebola theories? Has Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) ever explained her argument that the president doesn’t care if Americans get Ebola? Does former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) still stand by his condemnations of Obama’s handling of the public-health threat?
Or are we dealing with a dynamic in which the political world lost interest in just how wrong the right was the moment the total number of American patients with Ebola dropped to zero?