After weeks of fumbling and false promises, President Obama appointed an Ebola Czar. Selecting a public face for the crisis response was designed to calm the public, quiet critics and, most importantly, redirect complex and awkward questions away from the President and his press secretary.
Instead of choosing an expert qualified in infectious disease, Obama selected Ron Klain, a longtime political fixer. Klain served as a handler for Vice Presidents Biden and Gore, and parceled out billions of stimulus dollars to politically favored interests.
“What we were looking for was not an Ebola expert,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, “but rather an implementation expert.” But what exactly was Klain hired to implement — a public health campaign or a political one?
The New York Times let slip the Ebola Czar’s true purpose through an anonymous Democrat operative: “He’ll control the message better than most people would, which is really important from an economic standpoint, from a health standpoint, but it’s also important from a political perspective. If anybody can get the way this is being reported and discussed under control in a short period of time, he’s the one.”
Klein started his new job on Wednesday of last week. We saw the results of his politics-first, policy-second strategy over the weekend.
Two high-profile cases of Ebola worried voters in and around New York City. Since the White House stubbornly refuses to limit travel from west African hot zones, governors Cuomo and Christie took action on their own. The Democrat and Republican executives crafted a bipartisan plan to quarantine high-risk travelers for 21 days.
Unfortunately for fans of public health and common sense, this minor inconvenience to a handful of health care workers mildly embarrassed Obama. So the Klain machine leapt to action:
New York Times: Tested Negative for Ebola, Nurse Criticizes Her Quarantine
CNN: Nurse describes Ebola quarantine ordeal: ‘I was in shock. Now I’m angry’
Huffington Post: Quarantined Nurse Kaci Hickox Calls Her Treatment ‘Inhumane’, Criticizes Chris Christie
BuzzFeed: Quarantined N.J. Nurse Says Her “Basic Human Rights Have Been Violated”
Nearly every Obama-allied media organ carried precisely the same narrative: CDC employee Kaci Hickox was a victim of cruel male governors who dared oppose Obama’s wise policies. Reporters, editors and Democratic guns-for-hire took to social media to mock the quarantine and anyone who defended it as scientific illiterates and panic pimps.
By Sunday night, Gov. Cuomo backtracked, saying a home quarantine was acceptable. Today, the New Jersey health department released Hickox from her spacious, high-tech hospital quarters to take “private transport” to her home in Maine. (No word if commuters on the highways between New Jersey and Maine have been warned of her itinerary.)
Thus, Ron Klain’s first campaign as Ebola czar has been a rousing success, though not in the way Americans had hoped. He reduced a complex and grave public health crisis into a crude and dumb political attack. Through Klain’s leadership, the White House beat back rivals in both parties who dared to criticize its ineffective response to the deadly virus. Allies in the media ridiculed Americans concerned about Ebola, the disease Obama assured would never reach our shores.
Klain was not hired to stop a disease, but to stop a slide in the polls.
Though Obama and Klain have won the latest news cycle, they have to hope no new cases arise before election day. They also have to pray that there is vast, heretofore undiscovered opposition to Ebola screenings, travel bans and quarantines. Otherwise, the punishment could be severe next Tuesday.
UPDATE: The media’s coordinated stories on the quarantined nurse are reminiscent of the 2012 storyline promoting Sandra Fluke and the fabled “war on women.” The similarities might not be coincidental.
The firm that pushed the Fluke story was SKDKnickerbocker, a “progressive public relations and political consulting firm that specializes in working for Democratic Party politicians.” Managing Directors Anita Dunn and Hilary Rosen were central to that PR campaign. Rosen has been angrily pushing the anti-quarantine story on Twitter.
Also of note, Ron Klain’s daughter Hannah is a public affairs associate for SKDKnickerbocker. I wish her well in her budding career, but I can’t be the only one concerned about the increasingly partisan campaign being waged under the guise of a public health crisis.