Quotes of the day

A medical network with roughly 9 million patients, 950 facilities and 85 million annual appointments is bound to have glitches, but critics say the VA Health Care System’s far-flung rash of problems ­reflects an ailing agency…

A spokesman for Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said Miller was pleased by Shinseki’s announcement, but wondered why it took so long. Reports about the veterans at the Phoenix hospital surfaced more than a month ago.

Miller said in a statement Friday that Shinseki and President Barack Obama were engaged “in an endless discussion regarding allegations, investigations and unreliable internal VA reviews” while “overlooking VA’s very real, very deadly and very well-documented delays in care problem.”


A medical network with roughly 9 million patients, 950 facilities and 85 million annual appointments is bound to have glitches, but critics say the VA Health Care System’s far-flung rash of problems ­reflects an ailing agency…

Symptoms are consistent whether described by patients, grieving widows, veterans organizations or members of Congress: A monolithic federal department described as too big to die suffers from some sort of bureaucratic malaise, though the diagnosis is unclear…

Joe Newman, the project’s communications director, said giant federal bureaucracies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs are tough to reform. “They’re by design these big, lumbering beasts that move slowly and can’t really put out fires quickly,” he said.

Kettl said the VA is so enormous and complex it resists change from within, as well as outside criticism. Even if Shinseki wants to overhaul the system, Kettl said, he’s just one man “pushing a very, very large rock up a very steep hill.”


[E]ven Democrats have begun to ask: If this really is the Obama administration’s “year of action,” why wait for action on the VA?…

Former Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.) said he doesn’t think this argument will move anyone but the Republican base — which has already written off Obama as failed manager — and could potentially turn off voters.

“If they’re trying to convince the public that the Obama administration is not competent, this is another arrow in their quiver,” Rendell said. “But if someone’s going to conclude that the Obama administration is incompetent, this pales in comparison to the implementation of the ACA. Voters understand that this was a problem for a long time, and Congress had a role, whereas the implementation of the ACA was squarely on the shoulders of the Obama administration.”


Mr. Obama evidently thinks that if he says the right things, he needn’t actually do anything. It’s worked in the past. But many mainstream journalists are as furious as the rest of us about how veterans have been treated. Liberal pundits Eugene Robinson and Dana Milbank are among those who have demanded a thorough housecleaning.

More journalists also have begun to notice the president talks a better game than he plays.

“Firing Shinseki would suggest he was actually taking responsibility, rather than just talking about taking responsibility,” said John Kass of the Chicago Tribune.

Because journalists are paying so much more attention to this scandal, it’s risky for Mr. Obama not to clean house and puzzling that he hasn’t. Is Mr. Shinseki a long-lost relative? Does he have blackmail material?

Perhaps Mr. Obama fears that if the massive failure of this government-run health care system is fully exposed, people may wonder what it portends for Obamacare.


It’s an especially dangerous scandal for President Obama because it fits into an established narrative about his presidency: that he’s a skilled politician and speechmaker but a lousy manager.

The biggest problems Obama has faced in the White House — aside from unrelenting opposition from Republicans in Congress — have come not from making policy but from trying to implement it. The calamitous launch of his healthcare plan last fall is the biggest and most painful example, but it’s only one of several.

The 2009 economic stimulus plan’s “shovel-ready” projects that took months to start, the confused response to the 2010 BP oil spill, the flap over IRS scrutiny of conservative organizations, even the State Department failures that led to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi in 2012 — all were mainly lapses in management, not policy…

Until recently, Kamarck noted, the White House didn’t have a high-ranking aide assigned full time to monitoring how programs were being implemented. That’s one of the reasons for the failure of the healthcare website; the engineers foresaw it, but nobody high up was pulling that information out of them.


The list of his failures is nothing short of staggering, from shovel-ready jobs that weren’t so shovel ready to the failures of healthcare.gov to the VA debacle. But it also includes the president’s failure to tame the debt, lower poverty, decrease income inequality, and increase job creation. He promised to close Guantanamo Bay and didn’t. His administration promised to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed before a civilian jury in New York but they were forced to retreat because of outrage in his own party. Early on in his administration Mr. Obama put his prestige on the line to secure the Olympics for Chicago in 2016 and he failed.

Overseas the range of Obama’s failures include the Russian “reset” and Syrian “red lines” to Iran’s Green Revolution, the Egyptian overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, and Libya post-Gaddafi. The first American ambassador since the 1970s was murdered after requests for greater security for the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi were denied. (For a comprehensive overview of President Obama’s failures in the Middle East, see this outstanding essay by Abe Greenwald.) The president has strained relations with nations extending from Canada to Germany, from Israel to Afghanistan to Poland and the Czech Republic to many others. All from a man who promised to heal the planet and slow the rise of the oceans.

But that’s not all. The White House response to everything from the VA and IRS scandals to the seizure of AP phone records by the Department of Justice is that it learned about them from press reports. More and more Mr. Obama speaks as if he’s a passive actor, a bystander in his own administration, an MSNBC commentator speaking about events he has no real control over.


I’d contend that the stickiest scandals are the ones that confirm preexisting suspicions — that draw neon outlines on an existing portrait. The Iran-contra affair confirmed a public impression that Ronald Reagan was disengaged. Bill Clinton’s infidelity was further evidence of indiscipline. More recent, the image of Chris Christie as a bully was reinforced by a staff that engaged in malicious bullying.

This is precisely why President Obama’s VA scandal is the most serious and damaging of his presidency. It is the Obama administration in sum and in miniature: incompetent management of a health system, defended by crude media manipulation.

Each of these elements deserves some unpacking. The incompetence comes in the aftermath of HealthCare.gov — the Technicolor failure of technocratic liberalism. Again, the White House is shocked, saddened and angered by the management fiasco of a manager under its direct control. In both cases, a presidential priority was badly mishandled over a period of years, and the president seems to have learned about it on cable news. Obama has defended himself by assuming the role of an outraged bystander — which, when it comes to leadership, is more of a self-indictment than a defense.

Modern liberalism involves centralized, bureaucratic authority and therefore presupposes administrative competence. But the caliber of technocrats chosen by Obama — including former health and human services secretary Kathleen Sebelius and VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki — throws the entire enterprise into question. Are the best and brightest really this dull?


Obama came to the White House with a carefully cultivated image for almost preternatural competence — an image no one esteemed more highly than he did. “I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,” he had told his campaign staff. “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that . . . I’m a better political director than my political director.”…

The Obama administration hasn’t been distinguished by cool, cerebral, sure-footed professionalism, but by something closer to amateur hour. From the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act to the bloody aftermath of the intervention in Libya, from enabling political witch-hunts at the IRS to being repeatedly outmaneuvered by Russia’s Vladimir Putin, from swelling the debt he was going to reduce to embittering the politics he promised to detoxify, Obama’s performance has been a lurching series of screw-ups and disappointments.

The 44th president — who once said that his accomplishments could compare favorably with those of any of his predecessors with the “possible exceptions” of Lyndon Johnson, FDR, and Abraham Lincoln — has always had a huge opinion of his executive gifts. The American people no longer share it. As a political creature, Obama’s talents are undeniable. When it comes to competent governance, they turned out to be anything but.


News flash to Obama sycophants — Bush left office in 2009. Whatever he did — good, bad or ugly — is over. This is the seventh-inning stretch in Obama’s ballgame, and it doesn’t take a lot of independent thinking to know things aren’t going well.

You can whine all you want about “Bush, Bush, Bush.” You can deflect Benghazi into a tale about 9/11, if in some twisted way that makes you feel better. Bring up Iraq, if you like. Spit and hiss about Dick Cheney for all the good it will do.

This is Memorial Day Weekend 2014. With only two more Memorial Days left in his presidency, the truth about Obama is spilling out.

There’s enough road behind us now to know that the road ahead doesn’t look much different.


“Forget for a moment that Republican outrage,” said King on his CNN show this morning. “More and more Democrats in key 2014 races are calling for the president to get a spine, they say, and fire his Veterans Affairs secretary. And what more and more Democrats are saying privately is scathing, calling the president and his team detached, flat footed, even incompetent.



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