Thursday, October 23, 2014

Czar Ron Klain I

Not Ron Klain

As I’m sure all three of my faithful readers have noted, I’ve been posting to this blog quite a bit less frequently of late. There is one big reason for this: in the heated weeks leading up to a high-stakes election such as next month’s midterms, the media is so focused on who might win any number of disparate races that they stop talking about any actual issues. All the chatter devolves into an endless cycle of meaningless prognostication and laughably short-sighted attempts to project how next month’s wins and losses will affect our two parties’ hopes in the distant future. Add into the mix the American people’s remarkable inability to decide what constitutes the world’s number one crisis (remember when ISIS was a big deal?) and, honestly, I’m at a loss for words.

So, today I just want to talk about one little thing that’s bothering me. Yesterday, Ron Klain began his tenure as the Obama Administration’s Ebola Czar (because Ebola is now the number one crisis, at least for the next few hours). Mr. Klain is merely the most recent addition to a long and storied tradition of American czars. He follows in the footsteps of missile czars, oil czars, AIDS czars, climate czars, ethics czars, rubber czars, reading czars, and the wonderfully fun-to-say car czars. Oh, and let’s not forget the almighty Asian Carp Czar. Actually, Mr. Klain isn’t even the first Ebola Czar. That distinction goes to Dr. Nicole Lurie, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services. As per The Daily Beast, Klain will be working alongside a great many bureaucrats in addition to Dr. Lurie:

With the spread of the disease in the United States, more leaders have stepped in to join the fight. Among [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director] Dr. Frieden’s counterparts in the relief effort are National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, Director of HHS Preparedness and Response Robin Robinson, and Assistant Commissioner in the Office of Field Operations at Customs and Border Protection John Wagner. That’s not to mention Obama’s Homeland Security adviser, Lisa Monaco, who is coordinating the efforts of all the agencies just listed.

Indeed, if there is anything to take away from all this, it’s that we need another government official getting a piece of the Ebola action. But, honestly, that’s not even what bothers me about this. What bothers me is who Ron Klain is. For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Mr. Klain is a lifelong Democratic political operative whose most recent work was as Vice President Joe Biden’s Chief of Staff. He also served in that same position with Vice President Al Gore and Attorney General Janet Reno. During President Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, Klain helped with debate prep. But the one thing I’ve always known him for is his role as the head lawyer with the Gore Recount Committee in 2000, a role which was dramatized by none other than Kevin Spacey in the HBO Film Recount. Needless to say, I was shocked when I saw so many photos of Klain after he was announced as the Ebola Czar and he didn’t fit my mental image of him, which looked something like this:
Also not Ron Klain

Ron Klain is nothing more than a Democratic insider. He has no medical experience of any kind. Never before in his life has he dealt with either Ebola or bureaucratic coordination of this scope. So why did President Obama give him this job? Some, including the author of the aforementioned Daily Beast article, contend that this illustrates Obama’s perception of the Ebola issue as a political and governmental problem rather than a medical one. And, to be fair, that might be all it is. The White House spokesman was rather upfront in admitting that what the administration was looking for in this position was “not an Ebola expert.” But here is my take on this rather curious appointment. Politico reported earlier this week that the leading candidate to replace John Podesta as counselor to the President is—yep, you guessed it—Ron Klain. Also noted in that report was that a leading candidate to replace Dennis McDonough, the current White House Chief of Staff, would also be Ron Klain. “Bringing Klain into the West Wing now,” the article states, “would provide a smooth transition to Podesta’s job when he departs — probably early next year, perhaps after the State of the Union address.”

Well, that makes for a tidy little arrangement, doesn’t it? Why bother to find someone who has the proper credentials for a newly-created bureaucratic position when you can just bring in a longtime party operative who you want to re-join your inner circle at some point anyway? Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t think this is that big of a deal. If nothing else, Klain’s selection as Ebola Czar makes it pretty clear that there isn’t much of an Ebola crisis in the United States and that this post has been created mostly to make the needlessly panicked masses feel better. But it also reinforces a belief I’ve always had about the Obama Administration: that they care a lot more about keeping the Democratic machine well-oiled and running than they do about anything else. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Harry Reid has to go

Aside from my earlier post about the kerfuffle in Kansas, I haven’t spent much time on this blog talking about the Republicans’ chances of taking the Senate in next month’s midterm elections. This is very much by design. First of all, I really don’t like prognosticating about election outcomes unless I’m reasonably certain as to where they’re headed. And even with just a month to go, I’m still very uncertain about a handful of individual races that will determine which party is in control of Congress’ upper chamber come January. Secondly, I’m actually pretty ambivalent about what a Republican-held Congress could realistically achieve, given the fact that President Obama would unhesitatingly veto just about anything they passed and that a GOP Senate majority would have a pretty good chance of disappearing come 2016. Nevertheless, there is one very specific consequence of a Republican takeover this fall that I would welcome with open arms: Harry Reid would lose his job as Senate Majority Leader.

Over the past two years, Harry Reid has become my least favorite person in Washington—and that’s saying something, considering I basically loathe everyone in and around Capitol Hill. (A vast, vast majority of Americans are in agreement with me on that second point.) Now, I was never a big fan of Sen. Reid to begin with, but I really soured on him during the 2012 presidential campaign, when he turned the Senate floor into a forum for baseless campaign rhetoric by asserting an unsubstantiated claim that Mitt Romney hadn’t paid any income taxes for 10 years. PolitiFact gave that particular statement a “Pants on Fire.”

This campaign season, Sen. Reid has continued to use the Senate floor as a means to attack private American citizens. His victims of choice this time are the infamous Koch Brothers, the big-money bogeymen of liberals’ worst nightmares. Now don’t get me wrong—I don’t mean to say I’m a huge fan of the Kochs or anything, but when Sen. Reid turns around and defends Sheldon Adelson, a personal friend of his who does the exact same kind of electioneering as the Kochs, I can’t help but think of the man as a cheap partisan hack.

And all of this is to say nothing about how Sen. Reid goes about the actual business of governing. Like most Democrats, he prefers to blame the gridlock in Washington solely on the Republicans in the House. But, as PolitiFact points out, it takes two to tango*. As Majority Leader, Reid is notorious for keeping bills that could garner bipartisan support from ever reaching an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor, usually to rob Republicans from being able to claim they are capable of reaching consensus with their Democratic colleagues. Just last month, Reid openly lamented that a few Republicans voted with his caucus to open debate on a Constitutional amendment that would repeal part of the Citizens United decision. According to Reid, actually considering something for a change is how you “stall” business in the Senate.

Just as with his abuse of floor time, Sen. Reid’s languid pace of business in the Senate is also mostly a product of campaign-season maneuvering. As Fred Barnes points out in The Wall Street Journal, Reid will go to great lengths to protect his vulnerable incumbents and preserve his caucus’s majority. He was behind the spectacular gambit that made retiring Montana Senator Max Baucus the new U.S. Ambassador to China, thereby allowing Democratic Montana Governor Steve Bullock to appoint his Lieutenant Governor, John Walsh, to fill out the rest of Baucus’s term. Not only did this install an incumbent Democrat in a difficult-to-hold seat (Walsh has since dropped out due to scandal), but it also allowed the Democratic Senate Caucus to shuffle their committee chairs and install Sen. Mary Landrieu, an extremely vulnerable incumbent from Louisiana, as the new chairwoman of the powerful Energy and Natural Resources Committee. These kinds of machinations, along with the big spending of Reid’s Senate Majority PAC, are what Barnes calls “unprecedented tactics.”

Do I think these kinds of tactics would continue in a Republican Senate? Perhaps. And if that were the case, then a hypothetical Majority Leader McConnell would become my new least favorite person in Washington. But for the time being, Harry Reid is the undisputed holder of that dubious title. And for that reason, and perhaps that reason alone, I would relish an election outcome next month that would take the Senate reins away from him.

*NOTE: The PolitiFact report I’m citing here is in response to a claim by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) that Harry Reid and the Democratic Senate are entirely to blame for gridlock in Washington. PoltiFact asserts, just as I do, that the Democratic Senate only shoulders half of the blame for our do-nothing Congress, and thus rates Rep. Jenkins’s claim as “half true.” 

**UPDATE: Just one day after I published this post, Gallup released a new survey that has Sen. Reid's favorable ratings at an all-time low of just 21%. Turns out I'm not alone on this one. 

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Why do we do this to ourselves?