While there’s plainly nothing new about hideous screw-ups in the Department of Veterans Affairs — complaints about care in one form or another extend at least to the administration of John Kennedy — the combination of critical, systemic failure and the apparent indifference of a President who made veterans’ care central to winning the White House is such a disaster, even his fiercest media allies on the left have noticed.
Noticed? They’re even scolding him.
Under a headline describing Barack Obama as “President Passive,” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, Gunga Din among administration water-bearers, huffs: “It doesn’t inspire great confidence that President Obama, on the day he finally decided to comment about excessive wait times for veterans’ medical appointments, showed up late to read his statement.”
Maybe Milbank’s observation arose from a pique about being personally inconvenienced, because Obama has been showing up late for job-related public appearances — that is, those that don’t involve campaign contributors — ever since he finished taking the oath of office in 2009. I’m just saying it was a funny moment for Milbank to start noticing.
Still, he took some welcome swats, including this:
Obama said Wednesday that he doesn’t want the matter to become “another political football,” and that’s understandable. But his response to the scandal has created an inherent contradiction: He can’t be “madder than hell” about something if he won’t acknowledge that the thing actually occurred. This would be a good time for Obama to knock heads and to get in front of the story. But, frustratingly, he’s playing President Passive, insisting on waiting for the VA’s inspector general to complete yet another investigation, this one looking into the Phoenix deaths.
The mess even has the kids over at Ezra Klein’s Vox.com perplexed: “What the hell is happening at the VA?” But the new journalism guys were sufficiently slow to the party, and apologetic when they got there, to have snared the attention of National Journal columnist Ron Fournier, an erstwhile Obama apologist who absolutely tattooed Klein’s commitment to magical thinking.
The inconvenient truth is that Klein’s kind of thinking lets the president off the hook, unaccountable for promises broken and opportunities lost. Rather than change Washington’s culture of polarization, zero-sum game politics, and spin, Obama surrendered to it almost immediately. On health insurance reform, government debt, and loosening immigration laws, Obama shares blame with obstinate House Republicans for fumbling potential compromise. On climate change and gun control, Obama knew (or should have known) his rhetoric was setting up voters for disappointment. Rather than roll back Bush-era terrorism programs that curb civil liberties, Obama deepened them.
The launch of the Affordable Care Act and the worsening of conditions at the Veterans Affairs Department are emblematic of Obama’s inattention to the hard work of governing. He is slow to fire poor-serving Cabinet members and quick to dismiss controversies as “phony scandals.” To the Obama administration, transparency is a mere talking point. The great irony of his progressive presidency: Democrats privately admit that Obama has done as much to undermine the public’s faith in government as his GOP predecessor.
Still, it remains the duty of pundits on the right to remind the awakening class that Obama’s reckless indifference on the VA front is simply the continuation of a pattern conservatives have been yelling themselves red in the face about for most of six years. Commentary’s Peter Wehner weighs in effectively with “The New Obama Narrative: Epic Incompetence,” which is a nice primer for your newly attentive lefty cousins, but then they should be directed to Jim Geraghty’s applause-worthy expansion, “The Myth of Barack Obama,” which includes this concise, memorable, nightmarish (and thoroughly linked) paragraph:
Obama doesn’t really respect anyone who disagrees with him; he prefers to adopt an “only adult in the room” pose, demagogue issues, and attack straw men. He’ll talk about the need for a “new tone” and then stand by as his allies attack opponents as “not one of us” or accuse them of committing felonies without evidence, and even of causing cancer. Far from the post-partisan healer he was sold as in 2007–08, he’s a ruthless demagogue who urges his followers to “get in their face” and “punish our enemies.” “Don’t think we’re not keeping score, brother.”
Lefty journalists looked the other way when it seemed Obama was the culmination of all those deep discussions back in the student union; of course he had to be pugilistic if he was going to Get Stuff Done. Now, with the blood of veterans on the hands of an institution he promised to repair — and about which he then never gave another thought, because his words heal — they’re having another look.
Welcome aboard, fellows.