Preferring to look ignorant rather than irresponsible, President Obama said last week that he only recently learned of scandals at the Department of Veteran Affairs through news reports. He spoke of the problems at the department as if they had blindsided him, despite the fact that as a candidate in 2008 he railed against the “the broken bureaucracy of the V.A.” and decried outrageous delays in treatment for veterans.
He didn’t need news reports to inform him of the depth of the department’s flaws; he could have reviewed his own campaign speeches. His long familiarity with the department’s problems gave his press conference last week an air of adding insult to injury. Somehow he was at once aware of the department’s deplorable condition and unaware of it.
Obama doesn’t mind appearing as the hapless spectator on the sidelines of his government if that saves him from the charge of dereliction of duty about a known problem. Yet the plight of veterans at the hands of indifferent bureaucrats clearly lost its urgency for him once the 2008 campaign ended and only now resumes urgency for him as an annoying political problem.
He said last week that he won’t “tolerate” mistreatment of veterans but he managed to tolerate it easily enough since he gave those speeches over five years ago. His aides claim he is “madder than hell” about the scandal, but at last week’s press conference he implied that his anger was provisional. He is still not sure if the “allegations” of mistreatment are true and needs to wait for more investigations in order to determine whether or not “accountability” is required.
Learning about problems in his own government through random news reports has become one of Obama’s common refrains. Last year he said that he learned of the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups through glancing at the newspaper and he made a similar claim about his knowledge of various Justice Department scandals. Historians, looking for a simple snapshot of his administration’s fecklessness, can cite the frequency of Obama’s admission.
Obama also learns of non-events through news reports, as evident in his administration’s reliance upon fragments of reporting from the foreign press to claim that the Benghazi terrorist attack was a demonstration over an Internet video that turned violent. Former Obama administration spokesman Tommy Vietor commented to Fox News, “What I’ve seen is, in a number of outlets, reporters talked to people on the scene that night… who said they were there because they were upset about this video.” Vietor suggested that “guys quoted in newspapers saying that’s why they were there” was the reason for the bogus storyline.
All of this contributes to a picture of an administration that is hopelessly superficial, dishonest, and incompetent. It also exposes Obama’s ideology as false: the federal government is clearly too big to know and too dysfunctional to control if he can only keep up to date on its failures through news accounts.
The admission, however, is typical of an administration that addresses problems not according to their intrinsic seriousness but according to the extent to which the media notices them. If CNN hadn’t covered the scandal at the V.A., all those internal government reports upon which the coverage drew would cease to matter to Obama.
Obama sees himself as the progressive trailblazer too busy making “history” to descend into the mundane details of his own government. Reforming the V.A. was too unglamorous a task for him, so he set it aside as he busied himself with matters he considered far more important, such as eliminating the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. He also had new health care bureaucracies to create for the American people, which he found far more exciting than fixing existing ones.
The V.A. scandal, it is said, foreshadows life under Obamacare. But Obamacare may manage to treat people even worse. If veterans can’t get decent coverage after their heroic service, how much less effort will be spent by the federal government on non-veterans? Rationing could be even more brutal for them. When that day comes, when the de facto death panels are in operation, a safely retired Obama can read about it all in news accounts.