May 21 2014
The Oblivious Presidency
The Obama has an interesting reaction whenever bad news breaks: instead of trying to fix whatever has gone wrong, the Obama administration’s inevitable first response is to fixate solely on who is to blame. Specifically, it focuses on how the president, who likely first learned of the scandal on TV or from the reading the newspapers, is not to blame. Doing something about the problem is way down the line.
Likely, this is why the White House’s response to the Benghazi attack was so inadequate: the first matter at hand appears to have been protecting the president. Scrambling military resources, even if getting help to Benghazi in time was a long shot, was likely secondary to protecting a president up for re-election.
In the matter of the Veterans Administration hospitals White House spokesman Jay Carney likely went too far in trying to distance the president from—well—the government of which he is titular head.
Jonathan Tobin of Commentary writes:
Today, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney sought to partially walk back his statement yesterday in which he said President Obama learned about the growing scandal at the Veterans Administration by watching a report on the topic on CNN. After realizing just how bad that sounded, Carney returned to the daily briefing with the White House press corps today to say that his statement was being misinterpreted. According to Carney, what he really meant to say was that the president had only heard of the “specific allegations” about misconduct at VA hospitals by watching television. But, he insisted, the president was aware of problems at the VA, as proved by statements he had made during his 2008 presidential campaign when he promised to fix the agency.
Which is to say that, yes, Barack Obama had heard of the VA and had some vague intention to improve it as part of an effort to pose as someone who cares about our nation’s veterans. But between his arrival in the Oval Office and his subsequent appointment of retired Army General Eric Shinseki to head the VA in 2009 and the moment when he stumbled into awareness about the scandal during the course of spending some quality time with his remote control, he hadn’t given the topic much, if any, thought.
Charles Krauthammer said on the Fox News panel the other day that because of this constant distancing it is “as if he [President Obama] stumbled upon the presidency and discovered all this horrible stuff is happening.” Krauthammer was talking about the IRS, NSA, and other revelations.
Krauthammer continued, “He’s in charge of these departments. At the same point, you have to ask, ‘Where has he been, and where is the competence, the elementary competence, he promised when he ran 2008?” The Free Beacon has some videos of the president responding to various revelations.
In actual response to the VA scandal, the Obama administration has re-announced the retirement of a VA official—the retirement of the official was was announced some time ago but now he is leaving early. The administration, which obviously thinks we’re stupid, asked him to step down immediately and announced his departure as if it were fresh news. Fixed that!
With Memorial Day ceremonies looming, the president is also meeting with embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki this morning. Previously, a White House aide had been sent to talk to VA officials and veterans groups. I felt sorry for the veterans representatives who appeared on TV last night: they obviously didn’t want to offend the administration, which they clearly hope will repair the mess, but they obviously had been told nothing more substantial than that the administration will--you know--hold some meetings to look into the VA scandal
White House Dossier summed it up with one of its gag quotes: “Of course I’m taking action on the Veteran Affairs scandal. I’ve sent some of my best people out to spin this thing,” the president says in the joke quote. The administration has also claimed that the president who only recently learned of the problems early on tried to solve it (go figger) by allotting more funds for the VA. But, interestingly, VA spending has "mushroomed" as the situation for vets has worsened. So this is a matter of management, not money, and clearly a problem that is inevitable whenever government becomes involved in something as big and traditionally extraneous to governing as health care.
I can’t help thinking that this governing thing is independent of the transforming thing, which was what President Obama saw as the goal of his presidency. But more and more the president is coming across as a ceremonial head of state who loves the perks but tries to hide when he is called upon to govern.