If Only Obama Knew

The scandal about the Veterans Administration grows more infuriating by the day, and we are assured by a high ranking official that the President Barack Obama is “madder than hell than about it.” Whether he is angry about the off-the-books waiting lists and substandard service that possibly cost the lives of as many as 40 people or the potential political costs of their public revelation is unclear, but in either case his anger is at least somewhat reassuring.
That “madder than hell” declaration is accompanied by the usual promises that any problems will be forthrightly addressed and quickly solved, and some high-ranking VA official or another has already resigned shortly before his long-planned retirement date, but by now it’s hard to take all that seriously. The president is still standing by the VA Secretary, who haas politely declined to upstage his boss by declaring that he is merely “mad as hell” about what was going on during his watch, and the outrage has become increasingly unconvincing with repetition. Similar outrage was expressed by the president about the Fast and Furious scandal, and he still stands by the Attorney General who was cited for contempt of Congress for stonewalling an investigation into the truth of that deadly matter. More presidential anger attended the four deaths by terrorism at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, but the high-ranking officials are now saying “Dude, that was, like, two years ago.” The president again waxed livid about a few Cleveland-based rogue agents of the Internal Revenue Service harassing his political enemies, but when a high-ranking official invoked a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and it became apparent that the plot seeped deep into Washington he dismissed it as one of those “phony scandals.” The pattern is so obvious that even the slow-witted wags of the Republican National Committee have noticed, putting together an amusing montage of the president’s recurring wrath, and it seems unlikely that this time around will yield actual results.
Even so, it’s heartening that the VA story has sufficient legs to force yet another statement of the president’s anger. Every time Obama goes into his angry mode he sounds so very convincing that the average voters wind up wishing that he could be president so he might do something about it, and one can only hope they’ll eventually notice that he has been president for more than five years. The president’s spokesmen are disputing reports that he knew about the VA’s deadly practices back in ’08, and insist that he only learned of it by reading the latest newspapers, and even if that date sticks he’ll have the ready excuse of blaming it on the all-purpose scapegoat of the George W. Bush administration, but there’s faint hope the public won’t buy it yet again. Presidents have traditionally been expected to know more than what they read in the newspapers, and for all his faults George W. Bush can’t plausibly be blamed for what Obama hasn’t done over the past five years.
The dangerous inadequacies of the VA certainly do stretch back to the Bush years, and probably all the way back to its very beginning. Congressional Republicans are responding to the problem with a proposal to allow the VA Secretary to actually fire someone, rather than risking any political problems by calling for the firing of a former Four Star General who became a Democratic darling by criticizing Bush’s Iraq War policies, and it demonstrates the inherent problems of efficiently running a federal government bureaucracy. This should raise questions about the ability of a federal government bureaucracy to administer health care for everyone, and not just a relatively small number of veterans, and we expect the president will be angry about that. Pretty much the entire Obama agenda is based on the argument that government knows best and can be trusted, and in any case Obama deserves such trust, and the argument is not bolstered by the latest revelations about the VA.

— Bud Norman

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