T2B6: People worth watching I

Ron Klain

Starting today, I am adding a random newslet that has nothing to with the main update of the day but adds nuance to the T2B story.

Newslet

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock in Taiwan (0 cases in 200 days and counting) you know that Pfizer:

  1. Announced a COVID vaccine that’s over 90% effective in trials.

  2. Didn’t accept federal funding - Operation Warp Speed as it’s been called - to develop the vaccine.

  3. Announced the results of its successful trial a couple of days after the election so that Trump couldn’t claim credit.

Even hyper-capitalist AEI ‘thought leaders’ are celebrating Pfizer’s decision.

Ron Klain

The first of three updates on people worth watching in the Biden era.

Every incoming administration signals its priorities by appointing a chosen few to the cabinet and other important positions. Obama was elected on a mandate to end the war in Iraq and tackle a deepening recession. He kept Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, and appointed a Robert Rubin acolyte, Timothy Geithner, to the Treasury. Both were widely perceived (i.e., by me) as conservative appointments, walking back the promise of the campaign.

Biden has made his first appointment. That would be Ron Klain as Chief of Staff. From Wikipedia:

Klain had worked with Biden, having served as counsel to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary while Biden chaired that committee and assisted Biden's speechwriting team during the 1988 presidential campaign.

Ron has a long history with the incoming president - he has worked with Biden since the 80s, was Biden’s chief of staff as VP, before which he was Gore’s chief of staff. Hiring a long term confidant is a window into Biden’s emphasis on loyalty. He was also “appointed by Barack Obama to serve as the White House Ebola Response Coordinator in late 2014, serving into early 2015,” and wrote this prescient piece on pandemics and climate change in 2017:

Another deadly consequence of climate change: The spread of dangerous diseases

COVID and climate were high priority items in Biden’s manifesto; by appointing Klain to the gatekeeper’s role, Biden is (might be?) signalling the importance of both challenges to his presidency. Klain also served as the legislative director to Ed Markey, the Massachusetts senator who is one of the senate champions of the Green New Deal (alongside Kamala Harris).

Is that a robust signal about Biden’s legislative agenda?

Neither COVID and climate - climate more so than COVID - obey national boundaries and any American president who wants to engage with them will have to start talking to other nations. China looms large on this horizon, and the absence of American leadership for four years has given other countries plenty of room to chart their future without American support. How will Biden win back their support? For example:

Will Biden launch a U.S alternative to China’s OBOR?

Or the exact opposite, since it might be easier for Biden to make a deal with Xi than with Mitch. Perhaps the US and China will launch a joint climate action plan? Biden can sell that plan as better for jobs in the American heartland - isn’t that the premise of a Green New Deal?

Biden + Xi might the last and best chance to save neoliberal globalization.

Whether China becomes friend, stays enemy or lands in a frenemic zone in the middle remains to be seen, but Klain will be central to these developments. He’s the kind of cosmopolitan person who can talk to elites everywhere. Wikipedia says:

In 1987, he received his Juris Doctor degree magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.

Very much cut in the neoliberal ‘best and brightest’ mold, a successor to Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, Klain represents continuity from Clinton to Obama to Biden. Is that an asset or a liability? I guess it depends on whether the great challenges of the future can be solved with the neoliberal mindset - a ‘compassionate neoliberalism’ to play on Dubya’s imfamous homage to conservatism. It’s like Google’s approach to AI: throw enough data at it and we can solve anything.

I am skeptical.