Too Vast — 20 May 2013

I remember Candidate Obama saying in 2008, “it’s not whether government is too big or too little, it’s whether it works!”  

This, of course, assumes a manager is in charge.  Unfortunately, President Obama is no manager, and his government isn’t working too well.  And it’s bigger than ever.

Start with the implementation of Obamacare, Exhibit A for progressives’ unbridled faith in the benevolent powers of government.  The Health and Human Services department is woefully behind schedule in setting up the exchanges – sort of like Amazon.com for health care – through which small businesses and individuals are supposed to be able to choose between health plans.  And they are already about out of money to do it, having budgeted for the whole country about what California is spending setting up their own.  They have already decided to let the deadline pass for the small business exchanges, and the chances of completing the individual exchanges on time is indistinguishable from zero.

In addition, there are grandiose plans to set up computer systems that will integrate data from HHS, the IRS, Social Security and Homeland Security in order to police the individual mandate and other provisions of the “Affordable Care Act.”  Anyone who has been involved in system conversions at even moderately large companies knows what a playground for Murphy’s Law such an effort is.  Now imagine that project being brought to you by the people who run the Post Office.

Never mind the economic illiteracy that lies behind the whole effort – the notion that young, healthy workers will pay $7,000 – $10,000 for insurance policies they would not otherwise buy, when the penalty for not doing so is a fine of $2,000.  Couple this with the assurance that if you do get sick you can buy a full-bodied insurance policy whenever you want and the insurance company can’t charge you extra.  

No wonder Senator Max Baucus – who was one of the biggest proponents of Obamacare and one of its authors – now warns of an implementation “train wreck.”  The wonder is that this is a surprise to anybody.

One of the important elements of a government that works is a leader that leads.  The trifecta of scandals now plaguing the administration – each of which is getting worse by the day – indicates a bureaucracy out of control and a President behind the curve on what’s going on.  And that’s if you take the charitable interpretation.

Of the IRS targeting conservative groups for heightened scrutiny, the President told us that he learned of it only at the same time the rest of us did, through reports in the press.

Really?  Is that a response that is supposed to build confidence?  Whether this was the result of a few enterprising bureaucrats in Cincinnati or something considerably more sinister, how is it that the head of the executive power is not informed when something as politically potent as this is brewing?

It now appears that the White House counsel, as well as the Chief of Staff and other senior staffers, were aware of the IRS’ inspector general’s report on this scandal in late April, weeks before it was finalized and delivered around May 10.   Yet, as press secretary Jay Carney insisted, nobody told the President.

How does that make you feel?  The top staffers were more concerned with deniability and  protecting the President than they were in making sure the boss knew about a problem of potentially  Nixonian dimensions.

There seems to be a lot of executive haplessness surrounding these events.  According to Secretary of Defense Panetta, the President went to bed early on the night the consulate in Benghazi was subjected to a fatal attack, and did not once inquire later in the night as to the health and safety of the people he had caused to be in harm’s way.   Secretary of State Clinton says she didn’t see Ambassador Stevens’ increasingly desperate pleas for more security because she receives a thousand cables a day and just can’t read them all.  And despite the release of hundreds of emails that track the changes to the famous talking points, we still don’t know who it was that gave the thumb’s up to the hokum story of an anti-video demonstration gone rogue.

There also seems to be a lamentable tendency for the White House to send the wrong people out to face questioning – people who are not the ones who were present and informed.  Most famously, Susan Rice was sent to do the rounds of five Sunday talk shows spouting what every sentient being in the White House knew was poppycock about Benghazi, when Obama himself said she was not present and didn’t know anything about it.  Where was Hillary?  She mysteriously disappeared for months, because of some ill-defined fall and subsequent brain issue.  As Dan Brown’s symbologist sleuth Robert Langdon might have put it, hidden connection is much more plausible than coincidence.

Shifting gears to the Justice Department overreaching and seizing two months’ worth of AP phone records, the White House produced Attorney General Eric Holder to testify before Congress, and he couldn’t answer the most important questions about it because he had recused himself from the case.  Why not send the deputy who did make the decisions?

Similarly, the White House trotted out Senior Communications Advisor Dan Pfeiffer to do the Sunday shows yesterday, instead of policy actors, leading Face the Nation host Bob Shieffer to say, “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?”  Why, indeed?

David Axelrod, the President’s erstwhile chief political advisor, had these presumably helpful words to say:  “Part of being president is there’s so much beneath you that you can’t know because the government is so vast.”  In other words, the government is too big to manage.  Bureaucracies overrun their limits, enforcers violate essential constitutional freedoms, foreign policy bungles get sanitized in conference calls and emails.  Oh, and the President’s signature achievement is in danger of collapsing under its own weight.  And the President can’t be expected to be aware of it all.

Perhaps not all – there are hundreds of thousands of government employees doing millions of things every day.  But a government that works, one that is not so big as to be unmanageable, is one in which the person at the top knows the important stuff, and knows it when it counts.

We don’t have that with this government, and certainly not with this President.

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