A month before his inauguration in 2008 President Obama understood that his biggest challenge was going to be restoring the public’s faith in big government.
“What we don’t know yet is whether my administration and this next generation of leadership is going to be able to hew to a new, more pragmatic approach that is less interested in whether we have big government or small government [but is] more interested in whether we have a smart, effective government,” he said.
Unfortunately, more than four years later it has become increasingly clear that Obama has been unsuccessful in restoring confidence in government in large part because under his watch the government has so often proven to be dumb and ineffective. As the Washington Post’s Dan Balz writes:
This weekend, four of the government’s most important agencies are beset by political controversy, management breakdowns or both: State (what happened in Benghazi, Libya), Treasury (targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service), Justice (leak-related investigation of the Association Press) and Defense (rising numbers of sexual assaults).
Add to that the questions about Health and Human Services and its implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and it is little wonder confidence has eroded.
Perhaps big-government progressives could survive the scandals if their leader showed any interest whatsoever in assuring that they will be fixed and won’t be repeated. But President Obama isn’t exactly doing much to inspire confidence.
When asked about their defensive strategy to the recent scandals an Obama Administration official did the equivalent of saying, “nothing to see here.”
“Our basic thrust is that nobody, here, did anything wrong,” the official told The Hill. “That’s why none of this is going to stick.”
The Washington Post’s Ed Rogers sarcastically summed up the Administration’s responses to anything that could be potentially damaging to the President this way:
“At this White House, we don’t know anything, and we aren’t going to know anything. And when we do finally know something, it will prove the one thing we do already know, which is that this White House is not guilty of knowing anything. So there, let’s move on. Republicans are trying to protect the rich – or something.”
And when Obama isn’t simply pleading ignorance (often untruthfully, as it now seems), he’s doing the next worst thing: downplaying the importance of finding the truth. On Benghazi Obama’s only reaction was to say that “there is no there, there” and called it a politically motivated “sideshow.” On the AP scandal Obama has said sternly that he “make[s] no apologies.” And now, on the IRS situation the administration’s Dan Pfeiffer went across the Sunday morning news shows to say that the law is “irrelevant.”
And in case you’re wondering why I have to quote Dan Pfeiffer—not exactly a household name—to get the Administration’s most recent response to the IRS scandal, you’re not alone. Bob Schieffer, host of CBS’ Face the Nation, asked Pfeiffer why Obama was quick to personally take praise when things are going right, but sends out lower-level minions when things are going wrong.
“Why did you do that?”Schiffer asked, wondering why the Administration sent out Susan Rice to talk about Benghazi. “Why didn’t the Secretary of State come and tell us what they knew and if you knew nothing say, ‘We don’t know yet’? Why didn’t the White House chief of staff come out? I mean I would, and I mean this as no disrespect to you – why are you here today? Why isn’t the White House chief of staff here to tell us what happened?”
The answer is simple – President Obama isn’t engaged. As Dana Milbank notes, Obama “seems to want no control over the actions of his administration.” And whether he realizes it or not this is “creating a power vacuum in which lower officials behave as though anything goes.”
And with that attitude it’s going to be nigh impossible for Obama to ever create a sense of confidence in Washington. Because without adequate leadership it’s never going to be the “smart, effective” government Obama promised.