The VA scandal is a crisis of leadership

Mr Obama has never seemed that interested in the management of government. It is completely believable that he read about the VA scandal in the newspapers, where he has learned of other administration scandals. It is believable he had no idea what was going on in a major, problem-plagued agency.

Making sure that things work doesn’t seem to be his conception of his job. Words are his job. He argues for a bill, the bill becomes a program, and someone else will make it work. He talks about health care for three years, it debuts with a terrible crash, and he’s shocked. Why didn’t it work? He told it to! His background was one of some privation, but as an executive he acts like a man who grew up with 10 maids. Let them do it, I’m too busy thinking.

Mr Obama said, when he first ran for president in 2008, that the VA system was a mess and he’d clean it up. It has gotten worse under his watch. He must be shocked. He told it to get better! He said the words!

And the word is everything. The act, the deed, the follow-through, the making it happen doesn’t seem to loom large on his agenda of concerns. Which makes this progressive era different from those of FDR and LBJ, who appropriately feared scandal and mess and kept a sharp eye on what was happening.