Ron Klain As Ebola Czar: The Right Person For The Right Job At The Right Time

Lanny Davis Former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton
Font Size:

So does anyone doubt that if President Obama had appointed a medical expert to become the Ebola “czar” to manage the Ebola virus crisis, many Republicans would have criticized him for not appointing someone with experience in crisis management, media and political communications? Or if the president had appointed someone with those media/political skills, they would have criticized him for not appointing a medical expert?

Get the drift?

Ron Klain, whom I have known for over 20 years, is the right choice at the right time to bring order, management, discipline, media and political communications skills to helping the American people understand what is happening and not happening and why. My guess is Klain’s approach will be, to reframe the familiar expression, “it’s about communicating, stupid”; and/or “it’s about winning trust, stupid.”

Klain has followed a remarkable career path in Washington. He served as associate counsel to President Clinton; and chief of staff for Attorney General Janet Reno and Vice Presidents Gore and Biden. And famously, Kevin Spacey played Klain’s part in the HBO version of the true-to-life drama of the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida, which Klain ran for Gore. In short, his career has followed the multidisciplinary path of skills — law, media, politics, communications — that is just what the country needs to demonstrate that our government and our president can manage and get out in front of this Ebola crisis. Klain’s lack of medical expertise is certainly not as important as having these many crisis management skills, especially communications. Undoubtedly, he will rely on medical experts as part of his team.

So far, this crisis has been made worse by the absence of transparency by almost all involved. For example, recall when the supervisor of the Texas Health Presbyterian nurse, Amber Vinson — who treated the Ebola-stricken patient, Thomas Duncan — called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ask whether Vinson should board a commercial flight back to Dallas. Here’s what the CDC told us was its response: that Vinson “was not told she could not fly.”

That is a double negative, last time I read English. What was she told, exactly, in plain English? By whom? Why? What procedures are in place to do better the next time? None of those issues were addressed by the CDC in plain English.

No doubt, Klain would have worded that CDC statement differently. He knows the basic rules of crisis management because he has lived through and managed multiple crises in business, politics and life by following these rules: Get the facts out, get them out yourself, clearly and plainly, and get everyone working together to fix the problem.

President Obama, you made the right choice. No matter that rabid partisan Republicans are criticizing you. It’s “Groundhog Day” as far as that goes.

I only hope the president does what President Franklin Roosevelt did during the Great Depression — use the “fireside chat” on TV and radio to talk directly to the American people to reassure us that this horrible disease can be contained. We want, we need, to know everything, good and bad. Ron Klain will help the president do this, as I believe will the rest of his White House team.

And then there are Republican and Democratic candidates in campaign ads using the Ebola crisis to gain last-minute advantage in the coming congressional elections. Some Republican have accused Democratic candidates of favoring porous borders that make us vulnerable to the Ebola virus. And Democrats have blamed Republicans for supporting “cuts” in the CDC budget, and thus, undermining the anti-Ebola effort — a charge that The Washington Post Fact Checker gave the maximum of Four Pinocchios.

To these Republicans and Democratic candidates, I say: Shame on all of you.

Lanny Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton and is principal in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and is Executive Vice President of the strategic communications firm, Levick. He is the author of a recently published book, Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life.