Friday, November 13, 2020

Out of the Crisis #22: Ron Klain on pandemic response and preparedness, entrepreneurship, and rebuilding trust in institutions

Earlier this week, Ron Klain was named President-Elect Biden's chief of staff. The two have worked together for the last 30 years, and Ron also served as Biden's chief of staff during the Obama administration. He was the White House Ebola Response Coordinator in 2014 and 2015, when the Obama administration set up a pandemic prevention office and created a playbook for managing future outbreaks. It included everything from preparing the health care system to testing, treatments, and the acceleration of vaccine development.
As 2020 began, most Americans thought the coronavirus--if we thought of it at all--was something that was going to be a problem in China only. Ron delivered the opposite message loud and clear. In a January 22nd op-ed in the Washington Post written with Nicole Lurie, he told us,"We are past the if question and squarely facing the how-bad-will-it-be phase of the response." 

Not only that, but he made it plain that the idea no one could have foreseen the pandemic was nonsense. His work on the pandemic playbook gave him an intimate understanding of the situation and the ways in which the response to it had already been bungled. Upon coming into office, the Trump administration had disbanded the pandemic prevention office and shelved the playbook, which is a good deal of the reason we find ourselves in the situation we're in today with the virus.

This conversation was recorded before the announcement of Ron's new position in the incoming Biden administration. At the time, he was advising the campaign while also serving as Executive Vice President and General Counsel at Revolution, a DC-based VC firm created to fund startups led by diverse founders all over the country. 
We talked about the need for joint public-private efforts to rebuild the country, the role of startups in the recovery, whether a different administration would have handled the virus differently, working with Biden, the advice he got from Dr. Anthony Fauci, and many other things.

You can listen to our discussion on Apple, Google, or wherever you like to get podcasts.


A full transcript is beneath the show resources below.

Highlights from the show:

Ron introduces himself and discusses his quarantine (2:32)
Disparities in how the pandemic has impacted people (4:01)
Ron's background and how it affected his initial awareness of the virus (6:12)
How the Obama administration's Ebola efforts led to pandemic preparedness  (6:51)
Why pandemic preparedness plans were dismantled (9:49)
Ron's attraction to and path through public service (13:02)
Could a different administration have handled coronavirus the way Ebola was handled? (16:17)
What a proper response would have looked like (18:55)
The problems that stem from not believing science holds the answers (20:15)
The problem with the "no recriminations" approach (24:04)
What concerns Ron the most, months into the pandemic (27:37)
Why testing is essential for containing the virus (28:19)
How better health strategy is also better economic strategy (31:07) 
Dr. Fauci's advice about fear and honesty (32:38)
What the pandemic has revealed about our civic fabric and the institutions that govern American life (35:03)
The polarized response to the virus (38:16)
What bipartisan politics and policy actually are (41:28)
What Ron thinks we have to do to regain trust in our institutions (43:47)
The steps we should be taking now to build a more resilient, equitable, society for the long-term (46:07)
The prospects for a coordinated response to everything from hunger to education to unemployment (50:52)
Building pilot programs with philanthropic, state and local money to demonstrate their scalability (56:32) 
The necessary dialogue between government and the private sector (58:48)
How Ron sees the role of startups and entrepreneurship in the recovery (1:00:43)
What it's been like to work with Vice President Joe Biden on the Recovery Act other initiatives, and his presidential campaign (1:03:31)
Doing debate prep with Biden (1:06:12)
The lessons from the 2008-2009 financial crisis and response (1:07:09)
What we need to get out of the crisis (1:09:54)

Show-related resources:

"I ran the White House pandemic office. Trump closed it." Beth Cameron, Washington Post, 3/13/2020
Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football ("A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving")

Transcript for Out of the Crisis #22: Ron Klain

Eric Ries: This is Out of the Crisis. I'm Eric Ries. Would you believe me if I told you this whole thing was avoidable? I'm talking about the pandemic but also the ripple effects we are all experiencing: economic distress, social displacement, increasing inequality in schooling, in health care, and so much more. Is there a way we could've avoided or at least softened the damage? One trope I am really tired of hearing is that we are living through an unprecedented situation. Who could've seen this coming? The media, our leaders, people on social media keep mentioning this idea, as if we've never seen anything like this before. But this kind of pandemic is not actually unprecedented. Pandemics have happened before. Scientists have been warning about this exact scenario for many years. In fact, a coronavirus caused a shutdown as recently as 2005. This is not ancient history.

We need to stop pretending that we didn't know what to do. We could've chosen to know what to do. We could have learned from what worked in the past. There is a world of research and experts who have seen these situations before, know the common mistakes that societies make, and have developed a playbook for avoiding these kinds of disasters. We had the opportunity to act, and our leaders chose not to. We have to come to terms with the fact that this was a choice, as heartbreaking as it is to do so.

Ron Klain may know more about the leadership side of pandemic response than almost anyone in the U.S. He was named President Obama's Ebola czar in 2014 and led a coordinated response to that disease, resulting in only 18 cases and 2 deaths in this country. On top of that, he has dedicated his life to public service. He has been the Chief of Staff to two different vice presidents and has long been an advocate of science-based policy. Ron saw this coming. He wrote about this pandemic in January and laid out a plan we could have used to avoid the crisis. In our conversation, I ask Ron point blank if the outcome we are living through was inevitable, or could we have avoided this catastrophe? You're not going to like his answer. Here's my conversation with Ron Klain.

Ron Klain: I'm Ron Klain. I'm currently Executive Vice President at Revolution, a Washington-based investment firm. Previously, I've served in both the Clinton and the Obama administrations, including as White House Ebola Response Coordinator under President Obama.

Eric Ries: Ron, thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation.

Ron Klain: Thanks for having me.

Eric Ries: Before we get into it, how are you doing? It's hard to focus on leading when you're not taking care of yourself. How are you? How's the quarantine been for you and your family?

Ron Klain: Well, we've been very lucky. No one in our immediate family's gotten sick, and of course that's the most important thing. I think it's a challenge, right? I mean, I feel very, very fortunate on the one hand. I'm working from home. I'm able to do my work from home effectively, and all the technology, everything works. But I do think, look, it's hard to be isolated from friends. It's hard. I haven't seen my mom the entire time we've been quarantined and socially isolated. So I think we're going through a lot of the same things that everyone else is going through, a lot more fortunate than the vast majority of the people. But I think even for those of us who have nice homes and the technology to work from home and the opportunity to work from home, there are challenges, as well.

Eric Ries: It's interesting to be going through something that so many others are at the same time. One the one hand, this has been a bonding moment for many of us, having a similar experience, and yet, in another way, this emphasizes the incredible inequity in our society. Some of us have been able to weather the storm relatively easily, have the right setup and other forms of support. And so many don't. I really keep thinking every day about those who don't have that luxury and how hard this must be for them.

Ron Klain: Yeah. Look, there's no question. From the start of this, what I've said is people say we're in lockdown, we're in stay-at-home, all these things. That's not true. Even from the most rigorous period of this, millions and millions and millions of people had to go to work every day so that millions others could work more safely from home. And that includes the people who generate the electricity that makes this conversation possible and the internet that works and makes this conversation possible, as well as, obviously, the people who we see more up front, obviously the health-care workers but also the people who are delivering things to our homes and putting the things in the boxes that get delivered to our homes and making the things to get put in the boxes to get delivered to our homes and so on, so forth. So this has been an incredibly uneven pandemic in terms of its impact on people. That's obvious. That's clear from the data that's coming out, a great disparate impact of people of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos, but also disparate based on class, disparate based on employment, disparate based on all kinds of other circumstance in terms of whether or not you've been able to be more safe or be less safe. And that's, I think, one of the real sterling and most pervasive features of what we're going through.

Eric Ries
: For those who don't know you, would you share a little bit about your background? I want to make sure people understand why your voice carries so much weight in this moment. And I also thought I would just start with a quote from something that you wrote, if you don't mind, because I couldn't believe that this was written on January 22nd of this year, at a time when I think it's safe to say that most of us thought coronavirus, if we'd even heard of it, was something that was going to be a problem over there. We've been dealing, for months now, with people who've been saying that no one could've known or no one could've foreseen or all this nonsense. It says, and here I quote, "We are past the if question and squarely facing the how-bad-will-it-be phase of the response." That was on January 22nd. Talk a little bit about how the pandemic first came on to your radar. How did you know this was going to be such a severe problem at a time when most of the rest of us were in denial?

Ron Klain: Well, we need to roll the clock back to before this pandemic, to the fact that in 2014 and 2015, I served as the White House Ebola Response Coordinator. And of course my principal job during that period of time was to coordinate that whole of government response that President Obama marshaled towards fighting Ebola, mostly over in West Africa, but also getting our country ready for the occasional case we were going to see, preparing our health-care system, preparing the testing, preparing the various treatments we were going to need, and of course helping to accelerate development of a vaccine.

We did all that, and in the course of doing that, I got very interested in and connected with people who have been focused on this question of pandemic preparedness and wound up then spending parts of the next five years working on this issue. I think that, "Nobody saw it coming is about as wrong as you could get." In fact, what's been widely circulated on the internet the past few months is a speech that President Obama gave in the middle of the Ebola response at NIH in December of 2014, which my team helped write, where he said, in December of 2014, "Hey, Ebola is a dangerous, horrible disease, but it's hard to spread. It's a wake-up call that someday soon," and he said then, "maybe five years from now, maybe 10 years from now," but five years later, December 2019. He said, "Maybe someday soon we're going to see a flu-like virus that spreads easily, that is deadly. We need to start to get ready for it."

So, during the Obama administration, we did things to help get ready for it, even after we fought Ebola. We created a pandemic response playbook that we wrote in 2015, in 2016. We set up a bunch of global surveillance systems like one called PREDICT that was supposed to find these diseases early on. We worked with the Chinese government to put U.S. experts inside the Chinese disease-response agency. So there were a lot of indications that something like this was going to happen, and a lot of steps were taken to prepare for it to happen. And when the first signs of this virus emerged in China in the public in December of 2019, I think it was pretty clear that this was exactly the kind of threat we'd been preparing for, exactly the kind of threat that we thought we would see here.

Now, look, early on, I think, as I said in that piece in January, it was hard to know how bad it would be. It was hard to know how quickly it would spread, how widely it would spread. And indeed, one reason why it was hard to know was part of the outcome depended on our response to it. When people say, "Well, who could've foreseen this," well, part of, I think, is we couldn’t have foreseen exactly how bad it's been because it was hard to foresee that our government would bungle this as badly as it did. So I think the bottom line, Eric, I think is people in the field knew that something like this was coming. They put in place measures to try to prevent the worst-case scenario, and yet our government has bungled and stumbled into the kind of disaster that we're seeing now.

Eric Ries: It's been almost criminally negligent. We don't have the language or concepts for this kind of disaster. No one would have ever thought to write them down as a crime before because doing them was seen as inconceivable. To me, the big tell more so than the stuff that has happened since the lockdown began is that many of the pandemic preparedness actions and structures that you talked about that were put in place while you were there were dismantled before the pandemic. Why?

Ron Klain: Yeah. It's interesting. Why on earth? So, look, I think that one thing we said at the end of the Ebola response was that we should never have to have one of these specialized disease responses again. And I said, "Let's set up, inside the White House, a permanent office on pandemic preparedness and response, of experts who can help prepare for what is inevitable and bring together all the different disciplines you need to monitor the risk, assess the risk, quickly respond to the risk, quickly run the response." So President Obama set up that office after I departed, put someone named Beth Cameron in charge of that office, a real global health expert. With the change of administrations, Donald Trump kept the office for the first year and put Admiral Tim Ziemer, who was a veteran of the Bush administration's work on AIDS in Africa in charge of the office, and I think continued to do a good job.

And then, in 2018, John Bolton took over as National Security Advisor, and Bolton had a very traditional view of security. His view was that the idea of a disease arising in a developing part of the world and spreading here... His view was that those kinds of threats, those were development problems. Those were problems for social workers and aid workers, that diseases would spread in poor countries, and we'd need to send relief over there. His view was, that wasn't a national security threat. That was kind of a do-gooder problem. We should have a bunch of do-gooders go over and do that stuff. So he said, "Look, what we're going to do is we're going to shut down this office that Obama created. We're going to keep a few people to keep an eye out for terrorists because Bolton was very focused on the idea that terrorists might bring diseases to this country, but not that tourists would bring diseases to this country.

In fact, what we've learned painfully over these ensuing six months is that it really didn't matter if COVID came here as a bio-weapon or merely because a bunch of people on tours from China and from Europe brought it here. We're all suffering a big price, and it has a big national security impact. So I think the answer to your question is a very traditional and out-of-date view about national security led people to view these threats, these what they called soft threats, not hard threats, as not real problems. It's the same reason why some people in the national security community, particularly ultra-conservatives, don't view climate change as a national security threat. It's an environment problem. It's a problem for the environmental people, but it's not really a security threat. Global health issues were seen the same way by Bolton and his allies, and as a result, the pandemic-prevention office at the White House was shut down, and the team was disbanded.

Eric Ries: Talk a little bit about how you first got into public service and into government. How does one eventually become the Ebola czar. It sounds like a career.

Ron Klain: It's not a career path. No, no, no, no.

Eric Ries: Talk about why you felt called to do that and just how your path through public service has led to this moment.

Ron Klain: I'm a lawyer by training, and I served in the Clinton administration in the White House Counsel's office and ultimately as Chief of Staff to Vice President Gore, and worked on Capitol Hill both before and after that in both the House and the Senate. So I had experience on the Hill. I had experience in the White House. At the end of the 2008 election, Vice President Biden asked me to be his Chief of Staff, and I spent the first two years of the Obama administration as Vice President Biden's Chief of Staff and also as overseeing the team that implemented the recovery act, the big economic recovery package that President Obama got passed in 2009. And implementing that package involved coordinating the work of 14 government agencies, spending $900 billion in two years.

Eric Ries: Which used to be seen as a lot of money.
Ron Klain: It used to be a lot of money. At the time, it was the most money the government ever spent on something like that. We got it out the door on time. We did it with a minimum of waste. It was seen as one of the most efficient, transparent government programs in history. And I think it was that experience that led President Obama to come back and take over the Ebola response. His view at the time, in the fall of 2014, was that he had excellent medical experts, he had excellent scientific experts, but that the government wasn't really executing fast enough, that the agencies weren't working together, the throughput of the system wasn't as fast as it needed to be. So he had the view that, based on my experience in implementing the recovery act, he would bring me in to oversee this vast Ebola response that he had commissioned.

We ultimately put 10,000 people on the ground in West Africa to fight the disease there. We got 100 hospitals and health-care facilities in the U.S. ready to receive potential patients, to test potential patients, to screen and isolate potential patients. We treated about 18 people in the U.S. with Ebola. Two people died. One person who was misdiagnosed initially in Dallas who passed away. And then we had a U.S. doctor who was fighting the disease in West Africa who got misdiagnosed there. And by the time we got him back to the U.S. to be treated, he was just too ill to be saved.

So we successfully treated 16 of 18 patients, and I think we put together the right kind of response in terms of testing people who needed to be tested, screening people who were coming from West Africa to the United States, tracing their interactions with others in America, and protecting the country from a potential outbreak here. Even while, obviously, the vast majority of our efforts were about fighting the disease in West Africa and containing it there, the best way to keep people throughout the continent of Africa safe and ultimately other parts of the world safe was to try to contain and fight the disease in the three countries where it was raging in 2014.

Eric Ries: Oh, man. I vividly remember the cable news histrionics and the fear-mongering and the way that we in the public received the story about the Ebola outbreak. I mean, given that some of those same players are still on the air now, we understand how many of those arguments were really, truly in bad faith. I guess one of the big questions that is lurking in the pandemic response is: was that outcome available for COVID-19 for the U.S.? If things had been handled differently, could we have had a similar deescalation? It's almost like a fantasy now that the experts could have been criticized for exaggerating and fear-mongering. That's a fantasy outcome. Is that something that we could've had? Was that possible, given the facts on the ground?

Ron Klain: I think we were always going to see many more cases of COVID in the U.S. than we ever saw of Ebola. I think that the disease is spread so much more easily. So I don't think we could've had the same kind of outcome. I do think we could've had a much, much, much, much better outcome if we had handled this properly. So, if you look at countries like Korea, for example, which had thousands of cases but many fewer deaths, not just two like we had with Ebola but several hundred, but nonetheless got the disease under control in relatively short order and didn't suffer anything like what we're talking about here in the U.S., 130,000-plus deaths already and continuing to mount at 500 more a day.
So nothing about the extent that we've seen was inevitable. I do this, though, that certainly some epidemic here or some outbreak and some spread here and fatalities here were inevitable. I mean, I think that... Could you have had an outcome that was more like H1N1 in 2009, 2010, where over the course of a little more than a year, about 13,000 people died, so about 1,000 a month? Right now, we're still at 500 a day on COVID. I think something like that was much more possible than what we've seen. So this was... I've said from the start we did a great job on Ebola. This was harder problem, and it was always going to be more difficult, but we sure have botched it up. I don't think there's any question about that, too.

Eric Ries: In a previous conversation, we had an epidemiologist, Dr. Robert Schooley from UCSD, and he talked a little bit about, from the medical and scientific perspective, what a proper response would've looked like and what could have prevented more than 100,000 deaths. I wanted to ask you the same question but from the point of view of leadership. What are the attributes that were needed to make this work? What I think has been so interesting in these conversations is the ways in which the pandemic reveals as much as it causes problems. It's revealed all these other epidemics of inequality, of short-term thinking, and a real failure to take leadership seriously.

Ron Klain: Yeah.

Eric Ries: I wonder if you could talk about, in a hypothetical universe where the president had called you after he saw your op-ed on January 22nd and said, "Ron, what do we do?"

Ron Klain: Yeah, sure.

Eric Ries: What would a proper response have looked like?

Ron Klain: Well, so first of all, I think the pandemic both reveals and causes. I think both things are true. And I think, look, the first thing I would've said was... And I said that in the piece and that you read from, Eric, and in the other pieces I wrote in January. I wrote a number of pieces in January, early February. I testified. I testified at the first hearing Congress had on coronavirus on February 5th. So, to me, it starts with putting science first. People always think that's odd coming from me as a non-scientist, but when President Obama brought me in to run the Ebola response, his first directive to me was, "There are the scientists over there. They're going to make all the strategic decisions. Your job as a policy person is to figure out what government policies will take that science and turn it into action and implement their scientific and medical directives through this complicated government we have of federal government and state government and local government and private health-care systems and public systems and so on and so forth."

That's where policy people are needed, but the key strategy of the response has to come from science and medicine. And I think the number one problem we've had in the U.S. is the continued effort to either silence, quash, bend, ignore the scientific and medical advice when it came because it was inconvenient or unpleasant or whatever or because we have, also, this cultural trope for some political movements in our country that, like, "Science is bad," or, "Science is elitist," or, "Silence is liberal," or any of these crazy-

Eric Ries: But they've had a lot of practice on climate change.

Ron Klain: Practice on climate change and all kinds of things.

Eric Ries: Tobacco, I remember the fight over tobacco.

Ron Klain: Tobacco, all these things, right. So I think that's where you have to start. You have to start with the idea that: where are the answers going to come from? They're going to come from science. That's the first thing. The second thing I would've said is, "You have only two choices with an epidemic. You over-respond or you under-respond. This isn't like a business problem where you can do just in time, just enough inventory, just the right way. You are either going to wind up with too many test kits or too few, but never the right amount. You are going to wind up with too many hospital beds or too few, but never the right amount because epidemics are unpredictable, because there's uncertainty. So, to quash these things, you have to overdo it. You have to just imagine the worst-case scenario, deploy against the worst-case scenario, and then, if you succeed, you're going to have overspent, over-deployed, over whatever. And people will criticize you for it, but what they're criticizing you for actually is the success of your response."

And here, I think there was an effort early on to just do just enough. Maybe we won't need so many tests. Why should we spend all this money and do all these things to make all these tests? Maybe we won't need that many hospital beds. Maybe we won't need that much PPE. Let's just see. Let's just see. Let's just see. Right? And the problem is we got behind on all these critical things. We got behind on tests. We got behind on beds. We got behind on PPE. We got behind on critical equipment. We got behind on critical chemicals and reagents and things like that. And once you're behind, catching up is super, super hard. It's an exponential problem. And it's not just that. Also, because you're behind, it keeps getting worse. And so you get further and further behind.

So, if, in fact, we had woken up in late December, early January and ordered millions of testing kits and begun to test people early and appreciate it early on, just how widespread the virus was, we would've then surged contact tracing and identified who has the disease and where is it, and who are they having contact with, and isolated chains of transmission. And we would've surged protective gear to the people on the front lines so they wouldn't be spreading it or getting the disease. And so front-line workers who were doing the deliveries and the groceries and all those things wouldn't be getting it and dying and spreading the disease and all these things that are happening.

If we had done all that, Eric, in January, in February, we'd be having a conversation. Some people would be saying, "Oh, my god. You spent $1 billion on buying gloves that were never used. What an overreaction," and so on and so forth. But I'll tell you what. We would've saved a lot of lives, and the money we spent on things we didn't need would be dwarfed in comparison to the economic losses we're suffering because we didn't do that. So I think those are really the key pieces that were missing here: a lack of science, a lack of real intensity and effort on the response.

Eric Ries: I was involved tangentially in a number of the relief efforts early on, especially around PPE and education and hunger. So I had indirect contact with the government at various levels and got to see more than I ever wanted to see, believe me, but I'm sure quite minor compared to what you've seen in your career. I just got a little bit of a taste of the dereliction of duty that has happened here. One of the things that really struck me among advocates, though, especially early on, was that there really was a no-recriminations policy. Almost everyone I talked to said, "Look. Look forward. Don't look back. The fact that mistakes were made... We'll obviously need to have a truth and reconciliation commission at the end of this. But right now, we need to focus on getting the right thing done, and that means working across the aisle. That means working with people who made mistakes. Everything is forgiven if people will make the right decision now."

I think that was really admirable, and it took a tremendous amount of forbearance on the part of these advocates and the folks working in the field. But one of the really maligned consequences of that is that the public is not really properly informed about what was happening as it was happening, even though we who were working on the problem had this idea that we understood that this had been incompetently handled or maliciously handled in some cases. We all nonetheless had this collective delusion that this was going to be a short-term problem. We said, "In a few weeks, when people finally do wake up to the reality of it and start addressing it properly, then we could deal with everything else later." Now later has come, and it seems to me like the collective delusion is still operative. We're still not taking the problem, even right now at this very moment, seriously enough. Talk a little bit about what worries you the most at this point, what our response is now as we enter summer with cases spiking again.

Ron Klain: Yeah. It's an interesting point. I certainly agree with the idea that early on, a no-recriminations approach was the right approach, but I think that became kind of a no-accountability approach, which bled into the wrong approach. So I would go, and I would speak up publicly, and I would say, "We don't have this testing problem fixed." And people would say to me, "Well, don't point fingers." And I would be like, "Okay, but we don't have this testing problem fixed." I'm not saying we didn't have it fixed in January, though we didn't, and I'm not saying we didn't have it fixed in March, though we didn't. But it's April. We still don't have it fixed. And I think it was fair for the advocates, the people who had this view, to assume a very reasonable thing, which was that the Trump administration would wake up and start to do stuff. So, leave aside how angry we should be about their failures on testing in January and February, there's a sense that by March they were going to get it together. They were going to do it. We could worry-

Eric Ries: You're going to laugh at this, but I had two or three weeks of my life where I was told every single day that someone had it on good authority that tomorrow FEMA was going to make the mass order of PPE, and therefore we could all stand down. I actually heard that every single day for like 20 days in a row. I felt like the people that I was hearing it from sincerely believed it. It was like Lucy and the football over and over and over.

Ron Klain: It is Lucy and the football. So I think that's a real thing that happened here, which was just a reasonable disbelief by reasonable people that things wouldn't reasonably change, and they didn't. So what concerns me as we sit here today is that none of these things are still done. And I'll tell you, what concerns me the most, I suppose, is a certain kind of defeatism. I saw someone who I really admire and respect, I'm not going to name him, but who's a real progressive leader, tweet today, "Well, it's too late for testing and tracing now. It's gotten out of control. We've lost control of it. We need to figure out what to do now," so on and so forth. Look, it's not too late for any of these strategies. The countries in Europe, if you look at what happened in Europe... I mean, I mentioned Korea early, which got on top of this early and did a good job of not letting it get out of control.

But look at what happened in Europe. They did not do a good job of getting on top of it early. It did get out of control there. They did suffer losses of life, but they never gave up on getting in the game. And ultimately, in March or certainly by early April, they had robust testing regimes. They had robust contact-tracing regimes because I think, in our country, we're a little focused on this testing thing, as we should be. We don't talk about contact tracing enough. Testing makes tracing possible. Tracing extinguishes threads of transmission.

Eric Ries: I will put a link to in the show notes. It's the definitive resource. This is very important.

Ron Klain: I appreciate that, yes. So Europe not only tested. They traced, and as a result, yes, way too many lives were lost. Yes, it was too late, but they now have the epidemic down to... not wiped out, but down to a far, far, far, far lower level than we have in the U.S. The other day, the entire continent of Europe, 450 million people had fewer new cases than the state of Arizona, which has about 7 million people in that. So the point is the basics here remain the basics. I worry that we're just at a place... We know that, as a political strategy, the Trump White House is selling, "Hey, you know what? Nothing you can really do about it, just going to have to learn to live with it. This is just one of these background risks we have in society. Just everyone go on with their day." That is them. What I worry is that the people who are fighting this start to give up or start to think, "Well, I guess there's nothing we can do," and we just throw up our hands. There is still something we can do. We can test. We can trace. We can provide PPE for people, people in the healthcare system and also the people we're sending back to work.

I mean, I saw an event at the White House yesterday, I think it was, on how all the K-12 kids should go back to school, and they should all go back to school. Well, okay, that's a plausible position, but only if you're going to mask and face-guard the teachers and glove them and protect them. And if the White House's position is, by the way, "Teachers, you know what? You have to go to the five-and-dime store to buy your own chalk because we don't give you school supplies. And now, by the way, teachers, you're going to have to figure out how to get your own masks, how to get your own gloves. You're just kind of on your own," that's not a strategy. So I do think a concerted federal effort on testing, on tracing, on equipment, on clearer guidance on what should open and when it should open and how it should open safely... I think all those things would obviously save lives.

I think, ironically, Eric, the other thing about it is better health strategy here would also be better economic strategy. The president set up this thing where he says basically, "You know what, a bunch of scaredy-cat liberals want to see us focus on health. I'm saying we need jobs. Let's reopen as quickly as possible. Let's reopen without standards. Let's reopen willy-nilly. Let's reopen without protection for workers and customers. Just open." Not only is that approach going to cost lives... That's pretty obvious to people, I think, but that approach is going to wind up hurting the economy even worse because we know what's going to happen, which is... America's a consumer-driven economy. We don't make people shop. There's no law that says, "You must go out to eat." There's no law that says, "You must go into the dress shop and buy a new dress. People consume when they think it's safe and smart to consume. And when they see their government throwing up their hands and doing nothing to make it safer, they're not going to consume. So you see all the data starting to come in now that restaurant usage is actually going down, not up, in these early-open states. Bricks-and-mortar retail are going down, not up. Why? Because consumers don't feel safe. I think that's the economic flaw in the president's thinking.

One last thing on this point, when President Obama hired me to be the Ebola Response Coordinator, I obviously knew very little about diseases and response and these kinds of things. I knew how to coordinate government policy but didn't know about the substance. So, of course, the very first phone call I made was to Dr. Tony Fauci. And we talked at great length about a lot of the current issues and the things where he wanted my help in terms of getting the government to do better and whatnot. And I asked him, "Give me just some general advice, Tony. Give me some way to think about this." What he said was fear was a really important thing to think about. He talked about the early days of HIV/AIDS where Dr. Fauci was one of the real leaders from the start trying to fight this horrible disease.

And he said that people had all kinds of fear about getting HIV/AIDS in all kinds of ways, and that fear really impacted certain kinds of businesses, certain neighborhoods, so on, so forth. And he said, "Look, the thing about fear is the worst way to deal with it is to tell people they're being stupid or to deny it or to tell people you have absolutely nothing to worry about because when you say you have absolutely nothing to worry about, people think you're lying because they have something to worry about. So the most important thing is just to be honest with people, to tell people honestly what's riskier and less risky, how they can be safer, how they can manage risk in their lives."

Eric Ries: Which we didn't do with masks, for example.

Ron Klain: Like we didn't do with masks. His point was, if you're honest about what makes people afraid and tell people the truth, that is the best way to manage the social and political consequences of fear. And I've thought about that countless times over the course of this COVID epidemic. You see Dr. Fauci staying true to that advice repeatedly in public, when he's allowed to speak publicly by the Trump administration, telling people how things are, what's working, what's not working, so on and so forth. And I think the American public is incredibly generous in their willingness to accept that not everything is going to go right, as long as you're trying to make it go better. Instead, Trump stands up there and goes, "Nothing to worry about, nothing to see here, nothing to be afraid of. It's a hoax, whatever." That just makes people's fears worse, and I think, in the long run, that obviously has big health care consequences. It also has big economic consequences because people just aren't fooled. They know what's going on, and unless they believe their government's really addressing it, they're not going to respond economically, as well.

Eric Ries: I really appreciate you saying that the pandemic both causes problems and reveals problems. I think that's really right on. If you think big picture now, what are some of the things that have struck you? What do you think the pandemic has revealed about our civic fabric, about the institutions that govern American life compared to, for example, what we've seen in other countries or compared to the image we had of ourselves pre-crisis.

Ron Klain: Yeah. I think three things. I don't think any of these things were unknown before the crisis. It's not that we didn't know these three things, but I think the nature and extent of them have really come into sharp relief. The first is the disparities we have in this country by race. We've just seen a huge disparate impact of this epidemic on people of color, particularly Black people and Latinos. I think that disparate impact, again, not a surprise to anyone who's looked at any other public health issue in this country. That's always true, but I think it's just really come home in a really powerful moment.

Of course, it also overlaps with the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests and whatnot. It's obviously a coincidence that George Floyd got killed in the middle of this. It's not a coincidence, though, that the reaction to the murder of George Floyd is infused with this sense of a life-or-death moment for people of color in this country around COVID. It's just a lot of things that have always been there but really heightened and dramatized by this epidemic. So that's one thing that it's revealed.

I think the second thing it's revealed is this great disparity in our economy, and not just between rich and poor, which we always knew was there, but between the kind of work that people can do at home and the kind of work that requires people being out in the world and working that way. Obviously, I worked for a long time for Vice President Biden. I'm a big supporter of his. I'm working on his campaign, and he's got a TV ad now where he says, "The delivery workers, the grocery store workers, the warehouse workers, we've got a new name for them. We call them essential workers. We praise them, but we have to do more. We have to pay them." And it's not like they weren't essential before. It's not like people were out there hunting and gathering their own food before. We were beneficiaries of the convenience of either getting it delivered to your house or, before COVID, the convenience of walking into a grocery store and seeing a billion choices all perfectly stocked on the shelves when you wanted it, where you wanted it, and all these things.

Eric Ries: Never mind the people that actually grew it.

Ron Klain: Never mind the people who grew it and the people who picked it and the people who then got it from the farm to the processing wherever, and all these steps in this whole process. So this all existed kind of behind the scenes. Now I think the fact that these men and women who do this work are the least paid in our country, very often, are the ones who've been at risk of getting the disease, I think it's really driven that home.

Then I think the third thing that, again, we all knew was just how polarized we are as a country around some basic things. One thing that's been different about America and other countries has been the fact that this has been kind of a polarized response in our country, the idea that we have people... Every day, you go on social media. You see some video of some person yelling at some other person about mask-wearing, and people with these crazy conspiracy theories that, even though their doctors have been wearing masks for like 100 years, that they're going to die from CO2 poisoning because they wear a mask or whatever, that polarization, which, again, everyone who's followed this knew existed before. I think people had maybe this optimistic hope that in a moment of national crisis, you might be able to set that polarization aside, that when really life and death stakes turned on it, people would set it aside. But I think people know that that is true now, and we're seeing the grave, grave consequences of that in a really painful way.

Eric Ries: It's so interesting going back to your experience with Ebola because it's not like polarization was low at that time.

Ron Klain: No.

Eric Ries: And people made an attempt to polarize that issue politically, of course, and yet you had leadership who was willing to put that aside and do what was in the interests of the nation. Is it right to call this polarization, or is there something else here? How do we make sense of the fact that there's an asymmetrical nature to this?

Ron Klain: Yeah, it's a really smart point, Eric, and having said my little polarization speech, I will also say I give the opposite speech at times. Ezra Klein had a great piece out in Vox last week along these lines, which is that it's kind of partly polarization, and a lot of it's just Trumpification. I mean, what's interesting about the mask thing is that, while there are differences among Democrats and Republicans on masks and Democrats are more likely to Republicans to wear masks and feel more likely there should be mandatory mask rules than Republicans, it's also fair to note that, in fact, a majority of Republicans do wear masks. A majority do think there should be mandatory mask laws. The big difference here isn't really a classically polarized difference but a difference between maybe 80% of the country, members of both parties who say, "This is what we should... and 20% that's holding out.

So I think it's important not to conflate this fact that we do have 20 or 25% of the country that's following Trump, to not conflate that with broad, just general polarization like, "Oh, we have different views on tax policy. We have different views on... This is something where... One reason why Trump is unpopular right now is he is pursuing a view of this that is a distinctly minority view. So I do think it's a fair caution to be careful about how even I use phrases like polarization and to be a little more precise in how we see this moment. There is no question that we are divided, but the division is more like an 80/20 division, not like a 55/45 division.

Eric Ries: It really reminds me, and you were there so I'm really curious to hear your perspective of it... It reminds me of the early days of the Obama administration in 2009. The president had run on a desire to bring reconciliation and bipartisanship back to Washington. I remember reading his book and the way he said, "We're going to incorporate ideas from both sides." The political opposition at that time had a conscious strategy that if they opposed something, then it couldn't be bipartisan by definition, and therefore he couldn't be a success by that metric that he, himself, had laid out as a marker. I remember feeling frustrated at the time that the press went along with that, rather than saying, "Wait a minute. Shouldn't the test of whether something is bipartisan be not whether politicians of different parties sign on because that's easy to game? But shouldn't it be based on the polling data, based on the evidence we have?" There are policies that command a bipartisan majority across the whole nation.

I think it's meritorious, and we should give politicians credit when they do something that is bipartisan. But even if they have bad-faith opposition that decides to oppose it even though, just a minute ago, they had been for it, and if we had made that choice as a society then to view issues through that lens, wouldn't we be reaping the dividends of that right now?

Ron Klain: Well, hard to know, but I think it's a very good point. And what I'll say here is this actually goes one step further because let's give some credit here. Mitch McConnell wears a mask in public, publicly says people should wear masks. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Leader of the House, wears a mask in public, says people should wear masks. So, particularly on this mask issue, this isn't like 2009 and Republicans versus Democrats and so on and so forth. You even have many elected Republican leaders joining Democrats saying, "This is what we need to do," so on and so forth. And really, Trump and his most core identifiers are really out there on their own on this. They're really the outliers. That's, I think, what's so striking here, which is that even Trump's more traditional political allies like McConnell, like McCarthy, others, aren't willing to walk down the plank with him on this mask thing.

Eric Ries: Funny that they would draw the line there.

Ron Klain: Yeah. Well, thank goodness.

Eric Ries: Thank goodness. That's right. They're probably saving lives right now.

Ron Klain: Absolutely.

Eric Ries: What do you think we have to do to regain trust in our institutions? I mean, it's a catch-22. Right now, some of the very people that are actively damaging these institutions are on TV saying, "See? This is proof that you can never trust institutions. You can never trust elites to run them because we ourselves screwed it up." And you know for sure that many of them are going to be on cable news next year saying that exact same thing, probably on January 22nd. What do we do about that?

Ron Klain: Yeah, I think it's a hard problem. Look, I think, in the end, the government and its leaders need to do the right things and hope that people see that they’re the right things, hope that they see the results, hope that they follow along. There's often an answer to that, and then there's a political answer to that. The problem with that is that politics exists in real time, and it takes a while for reality to be proven. So I think about health care reform as a good example of this, which is that 2009, 2010, President Obama, Vice President Biden, Democrats in the House and the Senate put a lot of capital and energy into passing the Affordable Care Act and providing health care to tens of millions of Americans and protecting people from pre-existing conditions and protecting young people that could stay on their parents' program, policies and whatnot.

Eric Ries: It helped a lot of entrepreneurs, by the way...

Ron Klain: Helped a lot of entrepreneurs.

Eric Ries: ... because so many founders cannot get health insurance.

Ron Klain: Yeah, a lot of ways to really... positive for, obviously, health care, but also positive for the economy in all kinds of ways, and paid a huge political price for that in 2010 because the benefits weren't really baked in by that stage in time, and the costs were very apparent. Now, 10 years later, President Trump's effort to roll all that back is a political liability for him. And 10 years later, the people who made those decisions in 2009, 2010 are the political winners from having been on that side. But in real time, it was a big political problem. So I think that's unfortunately the nature of our political life right now. I don't know what will change it. I just know that this is the most important thing. President Obama always believed, and I agree with this, that the most important thing you can do is just do the right thing. I do think progressives need to do a better job of explaining to people why they're doing the right thing and explain to people what they've done and try to do a little better job in the realtime of winning the political battles over these things. But you got to do the right thing and then try and tell the story on that.

Eric Ries: Let's talk a little bit about the long term. What are the steps we should be taking right now to build a more resilient, more fair, equitable, just society on the other side?

Ron Klain: I think clearly we need to act on all three of the most obvious crises and a fourth lingering crisis. So we need a meaningful economic policy and economic policy changes. And that means creating jobs for people who have suffered permanent job losses as a result of this. There are going to be millions of people who have lost their jobs for good as a result of this. We need to create jobs for them. We need to raise incomes, both the minimum wage and other things that raise people's incomes. We need to help families cope not only through this crisis, but to be better off after this crisis is over. There's a whole series of economic measures that need to be taken. Obviously, health care reform is part of that.

Secondly, we need to really still address this COVID crisis. President Trump keeps saying, "It's going to go away. It's going to go away like a miracle. It's just going to disappear," whatever the formulation of the day is. It changes, but it's some version of that almost every day. We're going to need a lot of government action to do that. We are going to need to vastly ramp up testing and tracing and get to a place where we get this under control until we have a vaccine that's widespread and widely administered and whatnot. So that's the second thing.

We have a racism crisis still in this country, and we need to address that. We need to address that with criminal justice reform policies. We need to address it with policies that address all forms of systemic racism and housing and employment and the ability to start a business and to grow a business and all these things. Then we have the climate crisis, which has kind of slid off the front page because of those other three crises, and that's the nature of the climate crisis, unfortunately, which is it's always not on the front page because other things take its place in terms of the day-to-day news. But I think it's really important that we address it.

COVID is a really interesting metaphor for the climate crisis, or a comparison or whatever part of speech you want to use to describe this, which is that there's a crisis that people ignored early on, kind of thought it would go away. Trump even used the word hoax to describe it, like he's used for the climate crisis. Scientists were disparaged. People who issued warnings were considered to be negative Nancies or whatever you want to call them, and so on and so forth, alarmists. And then, all of a sudden, it was here. And we're seeing the death toll and the devastation, the economic consequences.

Eric Ries: Well, to your point about the defeatism.

Ron Klain: And the defeatism: "Nothing we can do about it."

Eric Ries: Nothing we can do about it now that it's so bad because we didn't act before. Therefore, we don't need to act now.

Ron Klain: Act now... Again, I think climate's a more slow-moving version of COVID but, in some ways, even more drastic and dramatic. So we need to really address that, also, as a country and as part of a global community.

Eric Ries: So, to me, the comparison point that keeps coming up from history is the WPA and the effort to put the unemployed back to work doing socially useful things. The need for that scale of investment keeps coming up in these conversations again and again and again, just the really obvious stuff. We have idle factories right now in this country, and we can't import enough PPE. How is it not the most obvious thing in the world that we need to have a mass effort to retool, re-skill, retrain, insource production of essential items? And, although it's masks and gowns right this minute, the production of melt-blown polypropylene, in the future we'll need to be manufacturing new items. So we need to have a WPA for manufacturing.

But shouldn't there also be a 21st-century digital WPA? We have millions of working families who can't work and send their kids to school. So we need to have a mass of investment in online education and tutoring. Well, good news. There's millions of people who are out of work. There's college students who can't go to school. There's retirees. There's knowledge workers of every kind who are not as busy as they used to be. Those people could all be online tutors for kids. We could be investing in mastery learning and supplemental education, closing the digital divide in education, making sure we don't have a lost year for students if we can't reopen schools. We could be doing that for every working family in the country.

It's so obvious in hunger. We have restaurants closing and going out of business. We have farmers plowing over crops at a time of unprecedented hunger. How is it not the most obvious thing in the world that the government should be funneling money to those private enterprises to keep them open, keep those people employed, getting the macroeconomic boost of that, and using that to feed the hungry. I feel like we're tackling many of these symptoms individually. There's plenty of nonprofits and people advocating for their one issue. But what do you think the prospects are for us to zoom out and say, "Okay, hold on. This is a massive societal-wide disruption with second, third, fourth-order effects that are all of a similar form"? Do you think we could do that coordinated response like our grandparents had to?

Ron Klain: Yeah, I certainly hope we're going to see that. As I mentioned before, I support and am working with Vice President Biden. He's got a big speech coming up where he's going to lay out his economic plan he calls Build Back Better that really addresses a lot of what you're talking about, Eric, that addresses the need to retool our supply chain, first and foremost, to start there, to insource the production of a lot of these key goods that you're talking about and the other things we're going to need down the road: medicines, treatments, therapeutics, ultimately vaccines, things like that. We should be insourcing as much of that as possible to create more security and speed in our supply chain and create more jobs, right? We need to really ramp up the production of all the PPE you're talking about.

The president has a tool, the Defense Production Act, that he could use, that Governor Abbott wouldn't have to send the National Guard to make masks. We could send workers, people whose job it is to make stuff, and they get paid, and we get the stuff we need. President Trump's been unwilling to use that authority for some reason. Vice President Biden says he will as president. But I think we also need to think bigger, as you're saying, which is... One idea the vice president's had specifically is to create a contact-tracing core of 100,000 people to take a lot of those young people who are out of work, who can't get jobs and let them do something really important, which is to help them run down this disease, learn skills in public health and community health and may wind up being great careers for them. Once this is all over, we could redeploy them to fight opioids and other great public health crises we have. These aren't just one-time things.

Then we also need to really ramp up our caring economy. We need to really increase the number of people you were talking about, providing care for the children, for the elderly, doing the kinds of teaching you're talking about, doing all kinds of online opportunities you're talking about. I think one thing that's been a weakness, aside from all the other weakness, but one other thing that's been a weakness has been a perspective that this COVID crisis is a short-term thing, that it's like a really bad blizzard, that, "Oh, if we wait a couple days, it goes away." We plow up the streets. We all go back to our normal lives by Thursday, by Friday, by next week, so on and so forth. And I think that's led us to ignore these larger solutions that will take longer to ramp up. I mean, the WPA is a really interesting metaphor, everyone loves the WPA. It's a really interesting story. It took two and a half years before it started to employ people in significant numbers. I mean, this was not a short-term answer to the Great Depression. It was a long-term to the Great Depression.

I think, here, while certainly I hope we get COVID under control way before two and a half years, and I do think we could stand up some of these larger things much more quickly than the WPA was stood up in the 1930s because we have a lot of tools... We have a lot of advantages over the 1930s, no question about it. But I do think, look, it'll take longer to do some of these bigger things you're talking about. But I think, sadly, the effects of this disease are going to be with us for a long time. And as we talked about earlier, Eric, the effects of some of the underlying social problems the disease has laid bare are definitely going to be with us for a long time. So I think a bigger solution to this around insourcing, around manufacturing, around dealing with the climate crisis by creating jobs and building a cleaner energy economy and around really beefing up our caring economy, these things will pay benefits for the COVID response. There's no question about it, but long-run benefits for our country, too.

Eric Ries: I want to run an idea by you.

Ron Klain: Please.

Eric Ries: Because one of the themes in these conversations has been to inspire people to take action. I've been in dialogue with a lot of philanthropists and nonprofit leaders and, frankly, tech leaders who have not historically had a lot of interest in philanthropy who are getting in the fight right now, some of them for the first time. But this defeatism and sense of despair that has been so much a part of the messaging around the crisis has created a lot of confusion. What good could it do? What can I do?

I helped start this hunger-related nonprofit, and we're just trying to turn philanthropic dollars into food at the most efficient rate possible, feed as many people as possible. And I was talking to a philanthropist about it, and he was like, "What's the point? The government should be doing this, and they're not. So what if you fed an extra 100,000 people?" He was very dismissive about it. And of course, I was like, "Tell that to the 100,000 people who wouldn't have had a chance to eat." Yet I also understand his point. So I feel like what we're missing is a bigger vision of: what can people do to lay this groundwork? So I want to run an idea by you. Just tell me if you think I'm out to lunch here, no pun intended.

If there's going to be a delay before the government really is going to take this seriously and make the investments that are needed, hopefully... It's an election year now, but there'll be a new Congress soon. And so hopefully it could be early in the new year. If there's a possibility that it could happen then, don't we have an urgent need for shovel-ready projects? I know that would be a phrase near and dear to your heart because I remember how important it was in 2009. We didn't have enough shovel-ready projects, and that inhibited our macroeconomic response.

Should we be building pilot programs right now using philanthropic money, state and local money, whatever resources we can get our hands on to demonstrate their scalability, especially given that we have digital technology our grandparents didn't have? I feel like in the next six months, we could have 20, 50, 100 pilots in these different areas at relatively modest cost that would show that there is a way to spend this kind of money responsibly and effectively, the kind of money that's going to be needed to reverse the depression once it's available. So say a little bit about what you'd like to see the private sector, the NGOs, the tech community... What should we be doing now to prepare for this moment of shovel-ready action?

Ron Klain: Yeah, I think it's a great point, Eric, and I think that these philanthropic efforts are both meaningful in and of themselves... You feed one person, that's one less person that's hungry, let alone 10,000 people or 100,000 people. I mean, that's meaningful change. But also, as you say, they're really important for what they can teach an incoming administration about the way things can be done. And I'll use a very concrete example on this, which is my... I'm very proud to call him a friend, José Andrés at World Central Kitchen, who not only is feeding a ton of people in all kinds of parts of the country and the world in response to COVID...

Eric Ries: Millions the last time I checked.

Ron Klain: Millions, millions of people. If you go back to what he did in Puerto Rico after the hurricane, if you go back to what he did in Haiti and other places, what he did is exactly what you're saying, which is he found ways to feed people so effectively, so efficiently that they are now the standards that the government increasingly uses when it responds to a humanitarian crisis. I mean, his philanthropy both saved a lot of lives and innovated about creative ways to use existing kitchens and existing resources, how to feed people efficiently, how to get them hot meals, not just some prepackaged thing that had been sitting in a warehouse for nine years, that now FEMA uses some of his techniques when they respond. So I think this needs to be a dialogue.

I mean, I think that one thing that frustrates me as someone who's been in venture capital, in the private sector world is sometimes business people have a view that they have all the answers, and the government's filled with stupid people. And then sometimes government has a view that it has all the answers, and these business people are all wrong. The fact is there's smart people in both sectors, and there's stupid people in both sectors. And there are good approaches in both sectors, and there are bad approaches in both sectors. And if government's working well, it's learning from private models. It's hopefully also then regulating and providing direction to private players, and hopefully you get the best of both.

I mean, I think the COVID response is the illustration of the worst of both in the sense that the government did a really shitty job. Then, in the middle of it, Jared came along and said, "These government people are horrible. I'm going to bring in a bunch of private people. And instead of using my government tools, we're going to build a completely separate task force that uses only private-sector solutions to solve COVID." And that completely failed. We were going to have testing in every single big-box store parking lot. We have them in less than 1% of the parking lots right now. The people who were making the test chemicals didn't know if they were supposed to ship them to Jared's testing centers or government testing centers. It was just a complete mess.

Instead, we really need a whole-of-society response to this. We need a unified response where government is leading, it's working with private-sector models, it's drawing the best of all worlds, and it's willing to use the tools at its disposal. So we'll use the Defense Production Act. It's willing to use the authorities it has to leverage the resources we have as a country to help solve these problems. So I definitely think, I definitely hope that philanthropic leaders, business leaders will develop solutions in the months ahead, and those solutions will be leverageable by government and certainly learnable by government, and hopefully will lead to better policy in the future.

Eric Ries: We haven't really had a chance to talk about your work with startups, but your day job is actually at Revolution, started by our mutual friend, Steve Case. Do you want to talk a little bit about the role you see for startups to play in this recovery? I think something that's not super well understood on the policy side is that net new job creation fundamentally comes from entrepreneurship. And when people hear the word startup, they think San Francisco or Silicon Valley, and they have a very stereotypical image in their mind. But actually, entrepreneurship is critical to the growth of the economy all across our country.

Ron Klain: Yeah. I mean, I think entrepreneurship plays a critical role in creating jobs, not just in San Francisco, not just in New York, not just in Boston, the big venture and startup hubs in our country, but throughout the country. One thing we do at Revolution is we believe there are great startups all over America. We back them all over America. We backed hundreds of startups outside of Silicon Valley, outside of New York, outside of Boston, in every part of the country, and also diverse founders. There are many great women founders, people of color, founders of color that we've been able to back outside these three big hubs. So I think that, as we go to tackle this COVID crisis, we're going to find that startups are a key part of it. They're a part of innovating and developing responses to it. They're a part of building back the economy better after this has all gotten under control, part of really creating the kind of resilient economy of the future that is less impacted by things like that. So I think there's a lot of reasons to really focus on startups.

Our policy, the government policy thus far hasn't been that focused on that. The government policy's really been focused a lot of money to big businesses like airlines and things like that and then a good amount of money to traditional small businesses: pizza parlors and restaurants and dry cleaners and things like that. They're vital, and they definitely need to stay open. Of course they should've been included, and of course they need help. We really haven't thought much about, hey, what's it going to take to really get the kinds of startups you need coming out of this crisis to help provide solutions to the crisis and to really create the real job growth we're going to need? Because, look, one thing we know is going to happen is the economy on the other side is going to be different than the economy that went in.

Probably, there's just going to be less brick-and-mortar shopping. If you've ordered stuff online for six months, maybe you don't go back to the store in month seven, maybe less in-restaurant dining, just a lot of habits, less viewing of movies in movie theaters. There's displacement in the economy. We're going to have to fill that gap with a bunch of new jobs, and startups are a big part of creating those new jobs.

Eric Ries: I feel like I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you at least one political question while you're here.

Ron Klain: Fire away.

Eric Ries: Because compared to all of our guests, you must be the one closest to Vice President Joe Biden, who is one of two people who is overwhelmingly likely to be our next president. Will you talk a little bit about what it's been like to work with him? You talked a lot, especially the work on the Recovery Act and the work that you did with him out of the spotlight. Then what's it been like watching him ascend to the center of international attention and helping with the campaign?

Ron Klain: Yeah. So I first went to work for Joe Biden 30 years ago. I started working for him in the 1980s and had the pleasure of working on his Senate staff, worked on the judiciary committee staff in the 1990s. So he's been a mentor and a friend for a very, very long time. The thing I always tell people about Joe Biden is what you see is what you get. He is a very down-to-earth, very nice person, a giant heart, compassionate, decent person. And I think that the presidency and presidential campaigns don't change you. They reveal you. We've seen over the past three years the kind of person Donald Trump is, and I think we've seen, over the course of this campaign, the kind of person Joe Biden is, someone who always has that moment to talk to people, tries to reach out to people, really worries about the consequences of things on people.

I think that great presidential campaigns are the combination of a great candidate and the right moment. While I think Joe Biden would've been a great president for this country at any time, I think he's especially the president we need at this time to restore just some sense of decency and honor to the presidency, to try to show some compassion and understanding and to explain to people that experience in government is a good thing. Government's a hard thing to run. You need to know what you're doing. Just his background, his success in getting bills passed and working with Congress, getting things done, I think are the kinds of things we need. He's got the right values and the right experience.

It's funny. If you showed up tomorrow morning in New York and said, "I've got an idea. I want to build the most complicated skyscraper ever, but I've never worked on a job site or a building before," people would laugh you out of the room. And yet, Donald Trump showed up and said, "I've got an idea. I want to run the most complicated enterprise we have in America, government. I know nothing about it other than that I hate it." And we're seeing the consequences of that. I mean, we're seeing the bill on that has come due in a really powerful way. I think Joe Biden's experience, Joe Biden's character, Joe Biden's kindness and compassion, I think those are the things we really need in the Oval Office right now.

Eric Ries: I've got to ask this because, although people may not know it, you've been in charge of debate prep, I think, for every Democratic nominee since Al Gore, right?

Ron Klain: Yes, exactly.

Eric Ries: How on earth do you do debate prep under these circumstances? I got to know, what on earth do you do? How do you do it?

Ron Klain: Well, I think we'll see when we get there in terms of... I'm not going to lay out our strategy here on the podcast. But, look, I think it's really important for Joe Biden to be Joe Biden in these debates and to tell it like it is and to stand up for himself and to make it clear he's not going to take any gruff from President Trump. But he's not going to be Donald Trump. He's not going to be rude and mean and whatever. I think he's going to stand tough and be tough but be a tough Joe Biden, not a Donald Trump imitator. That's for sure.

Eric Ries: One last question on the politics, if you don't mind.

Ron Klain: Sure.

Eric Ries: What are the lessons that you hope the vice president and everyone who works in his incoming administration, if it comes to pass... What are the lessons from 2009 that you want them to learn? Because it seems to me like so much of the world we live in now was shaped by the consequential choices that were made by the president and others in responding to the last financial crisis. Obviously a lot of things went well, but I'm sure you would be the first to admit there were some things that we couldn't have foreseen and didn't go as well as you would've liked. Well, we're living in that world now and, to me, one of the major appeals of Joe Biden as a candidate is that he was there. He was in the room where it happened, so to speak, when those choices were made. So what are the lessons you hope he's taken away from how things unfolded over the past 10 years?

Ron Klain: Well, look, I think that... I want to start with the fact that he's very proud of his role in making those things happen. I think that the policy solutions weren't perfect, but I think America's a lot better off because of the Recovery Act. I think America's a lot better off because of the Affordable Care Act. I think America's a lot better off because of Dodd-Frank. I think that it's important to understand that every day in the White House is precious, and every day in a crisis is critical. And it's really important to muster the largest possible response you can as quickly as possible to address as much as possible. And the vice president, if he becomes president, is going to have a very, very full plate of dealing with all of the things we've talked about in this conversation, Eric. And I think he's just going to have to throw everything he has at it and fight like hell to try to get as much of this done as quickly as he can. I think if he can get bipartisan support for that, that's great. If he can't, he has to do it, anyway, and he has to understand that time is of the essence.

I know there are critics of the 2009, 2010 record, but I'm really proud of my experience, and I know Joe Biden's really proud of his experience in it. I think a lot of Americans were helped. You can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and you can't wish for things that you can't have. I hope that, if he becomes president, he's able to deliver on the same scope and nature of changes. I hope, obviously, they're going to go farther on health care, they're going to go farther on jobs, they're going to go farther on climate change, they're going to go farther on race, father on immigration. At least, that's what he's going to try to do. He's running on a bold agenda in all these areas, and then just getting done as much as he can. That's definitely the goal.

Eric Ries: Ron, I really want to thank you for taking the time to do this. I feel like there are 100 more questions I want to ask you. You have had a front-row seat to so many of the important episodes in American history, certainly in my lifetime. So I really appreciate your perspective and especially appreciate the work that you're doing now to help us build the new normal that we all want to see. I want to ask you one last question.

Ron Klain: Please.

Eric Ries: Simply, how do we get out of the crisis?

Ron Klain: We need leadership to get out of the crisis. Look, obviously, I'm biased. I think part of this is getting Joe Biden elected president. But I think what we're seeing is two big things. The talent, the resilience, the determination of the American people is really impressive, but without the right leadership, you can't really fight something like this pandemic and all the consequences it's inflicted and all the problems it's revealed. So I think, in the end, we need better leadership in Washington to fight this crisis.

Eric Ries: Ron Klain, this was a pleasure. Thank you so much.

Ron Klain: Eric, thank you so much.

Eric Ries: This has been Out of the Crisis. I'm Eric Ries. Out of the Crisis is produced by Ben Ehrlich, edited by Zach McNeese and Sean Maguire; music composed and performed by Cody Martin; hosting by Breaker. For more information on ways to get involved, visit

If you or someone you know is leading an effort to make a difference, please tell me about it. I'm @ericries on Twitter. Thanks for listening. Please rate and subscribe wherever you like to listen.