Should Shinseki Go?
In my column this week, I look at the controversy surrounding the VA scandal. As I note, it presents a problem for liberals, who can’t rationalize this failure on ideological grounds the same way that they did with Benghazi or the IRS. As the always astute Byron York notes today in the Washington Examiner, left-wing ideology may also play a role in whether or not VA Secretary Eric Shinseki loses his job over the debacle:
In early 2003, as the U.S. was planning the invasion, Shinseki angered his superiors in the Pentagon and White House by saying he believed victory and post-war stabilization in Iraq would require far more U.S. troops than President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were planning to deploy. “Something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required,” Shinseki told Congress in February 2003.
By , Shinseki had become a legend to anti-war liberals, and all the more so by December 2008, when President-Elect Obama was choosing his cabinet. “By tapping Mr. Shinseki to run the VA, [Obama] has provided a sop to the left,” wrote the lefty blogger Steve Kornacki, now an MSNBC personality, when Shinseki’s appointment was announced. A poster at the leftist website DailyKos had a shorter reaction: “Hallelujah!” Even though Shinseki was not chosen for the military policy position some had hoped for him, the reaction to his appointment showed the enduring gratitude of many on the anti-war left.
This is, of course, an indefensible rationale for keeping someone in a position where they’re failing. Shinseki should be judged for present performance, not past positions.
That said, I’m ambivalent on the question of whether the VA Secretary should be given his walking papers. President Obama, like President Bush before him, is not inclined to reflexively fire people because of bad press. That can be a good instinct if it means you’re more concerned with actually solving problems than just creating the image of responsiveness for the press. But therein lies the problem.
Who serves as Secretary of Veterans Affairs is a lot less important than the makeup of the system they’re presiding over. Whether it’s Shinseki or someone else, they’ll still be responsible for managing a gargantuan single-payer health care bureaucracy. It’s a similar dynamic to the Department of Health and Human Services — don’t expect much to change because Kathleen Seblius is gone. The underlying policies and infrastructure remain the same. Whoever sits behind the desk is little more than a captive to the administrative behemoth.
Should Shinseki get the boot? I don’t know and I’m not sure it makes much of a difference. What would really help would be upending the entire process — for example, giving veterans vouchers for their health care, which would allow the federal government to still finance their treatment without actually providing it. John McCain recently suggested that step (as did Mitt Romney in 2012 — when he was pilloried for it). At the time, it was decried as inhumane. Anyone who wants to know what real inhumanity looks like ought to visit the VA in Phoenix.