He’s complimentary of her, but then he also called Joe “Wrong Number” Biden “one of the best vice presidents in our history.” If you’re stuck with keeping dead weight on your staff for political reasons, you have no choice but to half-heartedly defend them.
Emphasis on “half-heartedly.” Here’s what The Hill reported last week:
An agitated President Obama has expressed frustration to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the faulty ObamaCare enrollment website.
A visibly annoyed Obama behind closed doors has made clear to Sebelius that it’s her responsibility to fix what has become an unwanted second-term blunder, according to senior administration officials.
White House officials say the strong words from Obama don’t mean Sebelius is necessarily in the doghouse but that she’s responsible for fixing the problem.
In the words of one senior administration official, “She’s in a tough spot. She’s on the hook.”
The key line in the clip: “If we had to do it all over again, there would have been a whole lot more questions that were asked in terms of how this thing is working.” Says Phil Klein, aghast, in his column today about O’s lame non-apology, “This is Obama’s leading priority — the goal of liberal policy reformers for decades — and he just now figured out that he should have been more on top of the implementation process?” Precisely. Barring a major war before 2017, ObamaCare will be the most monumental “accomplishment” of Obama’s presidency. It will define his place in American history. And he knew, from the very beginning, that building the website would be an enormous challenge. Per last week’s splashy WaPo story, he gathered his staff on the night the bill was passed in March 2010 and told them to get cracking on the site the next day. “If the Web site doesn’t work,” he supposedly said, “nothing else matters.” Quite right; the same is nearly true for his presidential legacy. If the site doesn’t work and O-Care runs off the rails, nothing else matters. And now here we are, three and a half years later, and he’s wondering on camera why there wasn’t better oversight of implementation. It’s bizarre — “historically strange,” as Peggy Noonan put it:
And there is the enduring mystery of why the president, who in his career has attempted to persuade the American people to have greater faith in and reliance on the federal government’s ability to help, continues to go forward with an astounding lack of interest in the reputation of government.
He talks but he doesn’t implement, never makes it work. He allows the IRS under his watch to be humiliated by scandal, waste, ill judgements prompted by ideological assumptions. He allows his signature program, the one that will make his name in the history books, to debut in failure. In response he says bland, rounded words that leave you wondering what just got said.
We’re all reading of Jack Kennedy. He stayed up nights with self-recrimination after failure. “How could I have been so stupid?” he asked about the Bay of Pigs. A foreseeable mistake and he’d blown it, listened to the wrong people, made the wrong judgments. That man suffered over his missteps. He worried about his reputation, and the reputation of his government, and of America.
It is disorienting to not see this in a president. It is another thing about this story that feels not only historic, but historically strange.
One of the ways that Obama was touted as the anti-Bush in 2008 was that he was, allegedly, the opposite of “incurious.” He was cosmopolitan, had a Harvard Law pedigree, could banter with David Brooks about Reinhold Niebuhr while wearing perfectly creased pants, blah blah blah. More than anything, you could trust the man to be fully engaged, to ask the right questions of his underlings to make sure policy ran smoothly and to hold people accountable when it didn’t. End result: The policy’s a disaster, no one’s been held accountable, and, by his own admission, “we” didn’t ask remotely enough questions about the rollout of his signature domestic policy. That’s his legacy.