Our Passive President

The fallout of the Fast & Furious scandal largely took place in Mexico. The IRS scandal was too complicated. The Benghazi scandal got bogged down in questions over talking points. The AP scandal morphed into a debate between privacy and security. And the myriad Obamacare scandals have largely faded from newsprint for little reason other than the media appears tired of talking about it.

But as Charles Krauthammer explains, the Veterans Affairs scandal appears different.

“On the other scandals, the Democrats would sit it out, or pretend their wasn’t a scandal, call it a witch hunt, call it partisan and the press would join with Democrats and that would be it,” he said on Special Report with Bret Baier. “Here the Democrats have been screaming very loudly. Loud complaints from many Democrats, some on the floor of the Congress. And that being the case, there is nowhere to hide on this.”

One of those Democrats is Rep. David Scott (D-GA) who unleashed a torrent of criticism at the Obama Administration earlier this week.

“I listened to the President today and I was very disappointed with President Obama today,” Scott said on the House floor. “There was no urgency. Mr. President, we need urgency, we need you to roll up your sleeves and get into these hospitals!”

Sadly, President Obama has shown no inclination to do the dirty work. Rather than act, he’s chosen—as he almost always does—to talk. And his chosen words didn’t exactly inspire confidence that decisive action would be forthcoming. In fact, it sounds like he’s not entirely convinced that there’s any scandal at all.

If these allegations prove true, it is dishonorable,” the president said at a press conference. “If there is misconduct it will be punished.”

Those “ifs” ring loudly, especially with whisteblower testimony, documented evidence of waitlist gaming, numerous veterans describing substandard care, and reports of actual deaths because of administrative bungling. Despite this mountain of evidence all President Obama could muster was admitting to “the possibility that somebody was trying to manipulate the data” on waitlists and the “possibility that folks intentionally withheld information.”

This woeful example of the “run out the clock” strategy, in which the White House urges deliberation, promises hearings and then hunkers down in hopes that the media gets bored, has worked in dealing with previous scandals. But it doesn’t appear to be going over well in this case, with dead and dying veterans filling America’s front pages.

“The President came into office knowing that this was a systemic problem,” National Journal’s Ron Fournier said on CNN. “And he knew it was going to get much worse because he was winding down the wars, as he promised to do. And he knew that had to be a radical overhaul, not around the edges. And what did he do like he’s done with a lot of other things? He didn’t pay attention. He didn’t govern. And now he’s holding nobody accountable.”

The list of critics goes on. Time’s Joe Klein said that Obama “has been sadly ineffective.” The New York Times’ editorial page said that “expressing outrage is hardly enough for a president who, as a candidate in 2008, criticized the agency and vowed to improve care and address backlogs.” The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank called Obama “President Passive” for “insisting on waiting for the VA’s inspector general to complete yet another investigation.” And CNN chided the White House for “once again brushing aside questions about President Barack Obama’s management style.”

What happened to the president who in 2007 promised our returning heroes that he would be a “president who will fight for them not just when it’s easy or convenient, but every hour of every day for the next four years.”

Sadly, that president, if he ever truly existed, is long gone. He’s been replaced by a man who considers himself a bystander to history, one who is just as angry as the rest of us that terrible things are happening in his administration. That’s not leadership. A real leader understands that the buck stops with him, accepts responsibility when things go wrong, and moves swiftly to fix the problem. Will Obama do any of that? Not if last week’s speech was any indication.