Barack Obama: The Wind-Up President

Clown_Comic_Insert_v3It seems that Barack Obama is just a wind-up toy kept in a cellophane box somewhere in the White House. Every once in a while, they take him out, wind up the key in his back good and tight and let him give speeches. At least, that’s the impression he gives because, for a commander-in-chief, he makes a great talker. Except he doesn’t always do a very good job of even that.


The most recent demonstration of the wind-up President is the revelation this week that he learned of the current VA scandal watching TV. This announcement came from Obama’s Press Secretary, Jay Carney, who thinks learning about scandals from news reports is perfectly acceptable for the White House inhabitant. Absolutely, if we’re talking about live-in help, but not for the nation’s leader.


One thing is for sure. The wind-up President has transparent cellophane on his box that lets him see all the way to a TV. (Which is turning out to be the fulfillment of his 2009 transparency promise.) In fact, television has been Obama’s briefer-in-chief for other issues as well including Fast and Furious and the current IRS scandal.


One of the President’s supporters claims that Obama’s TV ‘briefings’ are o.k. because George Bush first learned of the 911 attacks on TV. Of course, that’s not true. George was in Florida at a speaking engagement and was whisked away by the secret service when it learned of the attacks.


But, even if true, learning about a terrorist attack by watching it in real time is hardly comparable to ignorance of well-known and long-standing problems. His Secretaries and staff must be under orders to keep problems from Obama. There’s just not enough tension in that wind-up brain to process them.


The persistent neglect of veterans has continued for six years after Obama’s transition team received a briefing about it from the VA. Obama must have been too busy ignoring the disastrous rollout of the website to notice. Or to make sure that the billions of new dollars he poured into the VA were spent effectively on veterans’ health care issues.


More federal money, without competent management or Presidential follow-through, has done nothing to solve the current problem. Lucky for Obama, not even this scandal can dim his Democrat leadership support. This week, Nancy Pelosi blamed the whole thing on George W. Bush.


Possibly worse, although there isn’t really a scale for these types of things, is that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki also learned of the scandal watching TV. At least according to the White House. However, a memo sent in 2010 to all Veterans Affairs Department health directors warned them against using the waiting-list scheme to improve performance scores.


The VA Undersecretary for Health resigned last week after admitting to Congress that he was aware of the memo. Yet, when questioned at the same time, Shinseki stated that he had not seen it. One wonders if “not seen” actually equates to “no knowledge of” or whether its just vague bureaucrat-speak to duck responsibility.


Shinseki supporters, who believe he should not be fired, point to his Army record and the injuries he suffered fighting for his country. That he has an outstanding record as a soldier is admirable. He should get medals and the life-long respect and gratitude of the nation. But, prior service, no matter how exemplary, does not make him a competent administrator.


Shinseki has been Obama’s only VA Secretary. These specific problems have been known since before Obama’s Presidency. Shinseki had to know about them, too. But, in over five years, he has not even attempted to address the problems. Otherwise, his claim of recent knowledge from television would not have been made.


Shinseki backers also blame the off-the-books waiting lists on the difficult problem of firing people who get a federal paycheck. Like many blame stories, this one sounds good but it doesn’t fit the facts. First, Shinseki claims he wasn’t aware of the problem. Second, he’s not interested in personnel-based solutions.


In a 390-33 vote, the House passed a bill on Wednesday that would make it easier to fire VA senior executives for poor performance. The bill has been pending since at least the first week of April. On Thursday, Senate Dems signaled support for the bill when it reaches their chamber. But, Shinseki said the latitude created by the House measure wasn’t necessary.


So, apparently, Shinseki has all the tools he needs to fix the problem. He just doesn’t get the job done. The waiting-list tragedy has blossomed under his watch while he just watches. That the man is still the VA Secretary speaks to the President’s incompetent management. Or the fear that, in firing Shinseki, the blame for the problem that the Secretary let fester and grow will touch the President. Surprise, it already has.


Obama addressed the VA scandal this week in one of his out-of-the-box speeches saying, “I will not tolerate it, period.” Uh, oh. We all know how badly the President’s period pieces end. He received four well-deserved, Washington Post Pinocchios for his lies about you-can-keep-your-plan-period and your-doctor-period. Someone needs to reach inside the box and delete the ‘period’ word from his speech options.


The more that comes out about this and other long-term problems, the more it seems that Obama’s five years in office have been just pretend. Which is what you’d expect from a guy in a cellophane box.