GOP calls for Ebola Czar, gets Ebola Czar, hates Ebola Czar

Whatever hope the Obama administration had of an Ebola "czar" placating Republicans like Ted Cruz was misguided

Published October 20, 2014 3:20PM (EDT)

  (Jeff Malet,
(Jeff Malet,

The idea that President Obama can do anything to satisfy Republicans on The Ebola is a joke. That's not what this is about. The narrative has been set and will not be altered by any decisions or concessions. If Obama does one thing that Republican lawmakers call for, the most generous response will be "he should be impeached for not doing it earlier;" more likely, there will just be new conditions placed.

Consider the naming of an Ebola "czar," or an administration point person to manage the interagency process. For a while it was homeland security advisor Lisa Monaco handling the executive branch response, but she's got other stuff on her plate. Okay. So Obama named Ron Klain, a longtime insider bureaucrat guy, to be the Ebola "czar." Agency heads, emissaries of foreign governments, and congressional leaders may direct their attention to Ron Klain from now on.

So is everyone who called for a "czar" in the first place, despite having a history of hating "czars" for other short-term political reasons, satisfied? Sweet Jesus on a hotplate, no.

The whole point of criticizing Obama about Ebola is to never be satisfied. If Republicans allowed themselves to be satisfied, they could no longer use Ebola as a campaign trail weapon. Same thing goes for the red-state Democrats whose electoral chances hinge on their ability to distance themselves from the president. If they admit that the president is doing an okay job managing The Ebola, they can no longer distance themselves from the president on Ebola. The best ("best") part about this is that the top political complaint they'll employ to distance themselves from the president politically is that the president is acting out of politics. How can the president be thinking about politics when there's a crisis?, various political candidates will say at their late-October political stops days before the 2014 political elections.

There were always going to be complaints about Obama's selection of Ron Klain as "Ebola czar," because, again, finding something to complain about is the whole point. But the predominant complaints are shifting. The first major complaint was that Klain is not a medical doctor. How many Ebolas has this guy ever beaten up? Zero. As if the duty of a bureaucratic taskmaster is to personally treat patients. This take was so piping hot that it nearly burnt up upon arrival, so now we're onto other things.

Some argue that we need a sparkly famous show pony, not some bureaucrat associated with Democratic administrations. Let's consider Senator Jerry Moran for a second. (It's vital to keep in mind that Jerry Moran is the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.) Moran had been one of the prominent Republicans demanding that the White House name an Ebola point-person within the administration. He co-authored a letter with Rep. Frank Wolf calling on the administration to charge an official with interagency Ebola coordination. The White House did. Is Jerry Moran content that he's gotten what he asked for? Why this isn't what Jerry Moran asked for at all! There's no time for these "political" moves, according to the head of the Republican party's senatorial campaign operations:

Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas, was among the first politicians to call for an Ebola czar. But upon the appointment of [Klain] to that role, he criticized the choice as “political” and unserious.

“Without the right person in charge, I am concerned the President’s appointment of a political ally will only add to the bureaucratic inefficiencies that have plagued Ebola response efforts thus far. He must be able to cut through red tape and make unbiased decisions across multiple agencies —the buck has to stop with him,” Moran said.

[Klain's] appointment was evidence that the Obama administration was not treating the Ebola threat “with the seriousness it deserves,” the Kansas senator added. “This is a real crisis and worthy of an individual with extensive background in international diplomacy, experience coordinating large-scale interagency missions, as well as a proven ability to work with Congress and across the aisle.”

We need the greatest human who's ever existed to lead the administration's efforts on this disease that has infected a few people in the country. Was Hulk Hogan not available, or...?

But the best line, because it's so self-evidently hollow of an argument, goes something like: we don't need some schlubby czar after all, we just need more leadership from the president. It's such a good one that it's the preferred argument of both Sen. Ted Cruz and National Journal's Ron Fournier, a bot that repeats the word "leadership" over and over in shifting contexts.

Fournier just lists 14 stray, numbered thoughts he has about the concept of the Ebola czar, the president, Ron Klain, Kevin Spacey, whatever, determines that he's written a column, and titles it "Naked Politics: The Ebola Czar Has No Clothes" because sure that sounds headline-y enough. He arrives at this stray thought (No. 14):

We shouldn't need an Ebola czar. The president needs to do his job better.

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? At least Ted Cruz is slightly more specific in his pursuit of this "leadership" line:

“We don't need another so-called 'czar'; we need presidential leadership. This is a public health crisis, and the answer isn't another White House political operative. The answer is a commander in chief who stands up and leads, banning flights from Ebola-afflicted nations and acting decisively to secure our southern border.  The Ebola outbreak shouldn't be treated as yet another partisan battle by the White House; rather, we should come together in bipartisan unity to take these common-sense steps to protect the American people.  And if the President will not act, if he will not lead, then Congress should immediately reconvene for an emergency session to enact a flight ban and take any other necessary measures to protect the health and safety of Americans.”

It's a wonder how the president's refusal to lead is always considered, by his critics, to be a political move. Why would the president refuse to lead if he's acting out of politics? Doesn't "leadership" poll well? Only in the abstract. Sometimes "leadership" actually polls quite poorly. Consider this hypothetical: what if public polls indicated that, say, "banning flights from Ebola-afflicted nations" would be a politically popular move, but a president wouldn't do it because it would be bad policy?

Who knows how long the President will hold out on that, though. Democratic Senate candidates like Michelle Nunn and Kay Hagan are joining basically all Republicans in calling for that most popular of moves, the travel ban. Perhaps Obama will relent and agree to it sometime in the next week. But that won't solve the political problem, either. Then there'll be a whole new, to-be-determined complaints about administrative incompetence. Complaining is the point.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2014 Elections Barack Obama Ebola Ebola Czar Jerry Moran Lisa Monaco Ted Cruz The Right