Naked Politics: The Ebola Czar Has No Clothes

Why Obama flipped and chose Ron Klain to oversee the political crisis.

1. We shouldn't need an Ebola czar.

2. We already put somebody in charge of corralling federal bureaucracies and coordinating local responses to national emergencies. His name is Barack Obama.

3. He has a chief of staff, the nation's chief operating officer, Denis McDonough; a homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco; a national security adviser, Susan Rice; a director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and a Cabinet full of secretaries.

4. That should be enough.

5. If it isn't—if all the president's men and women can't coordinate among themselves, if McDonough isn't strong enough to ride herd, maybe a massive shakeup is in order. But I repeat myself (here, here, and here).

6. So now the president wants a czar. He flipped. What type of person should he choose? He could turn to a respected and passionate medical professional with management experience, but such people already run the CDC and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

7. He could turn to a dynamic leader outside the medical world, somebody who has succeeded under pressure and amid change. Maybe a retired general. But such a person might get eaten alive inside the unfamiliar bureaucracies that spin out of the West Wing.

8. He could choose a political insider, somebody who knows how bureaucracies work and why they don't—a head-cracking infighter empowered to galvanize a dysfunctional administration. He could choose somebody like Ron Klain, which is what he did.

9. Klain is a veteran Democratic operative and former chief of staff to two vice presidents. He's now a bigwig at the tech-orientated venture-capital firm Revolution.

10. (Klain was portrayed by Kevin Spacey in an HBO film about the 2000 campaign recount. Spacey takes a call from a reporter named Fournier. That was not my voice, and that particular conversation never occurred, although I did talk to Klain and countless other Gore aides that endless night.)

11. The choice makes sense if Obama's main concern is a) the incompetence of his team, or; b) midterm politics. My strong hunch is it's "b". The Obama White House is not self-aware. It is nakedly political. The uneven response to Ebola threatens to be a toxic issue for Democrats, and the president is under pressure from his party's desperate candidates to do something.

12. Klain will report to Rice and Monaco. That makes no sense. Even if you think a czar is needed, and believe that the czar should be a Democratic operative steeped in White House politics, this reporting structure is a mistake. He should report directly to Obama.

13. Klain can't be a disruptively productive force without autonomy. I have to ask: How many senior White House officials, including the president, have ever created an organization chart? Anybody with a rudimentary understanding of management would know that you don't untangle a chain of command by injecting a new figure haphazardly into it. The answer is to put somebody atop it. Which brings me back to my first sentence, and the real problem here.

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