LOS ANGELES, May 30, 2014 — In one day, two members of the Obama administration experienced their final day on the job.
In the morning, embattled Veterans’s Affairs Chief General Eric Shinseki turned in his resignation. In a more surprising move, White House Spokesperson Jay Carney stepped aside as well.
Shinseki became a lightning rod when it was discovered that problems at the VA worsened on his watch. President Obama spoke about fixing the VA before he ever became president. The person he put in charge to fix the problems, despite being a respected military general, failed in this particular mission.
The debate over Shinseki was not totally along party lines. Senate Democrats in tough reelection races wanted him out. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters, a Fox News military analyst with a conservative bent, passionately defended Shinseki.
Carney was another matter. His job was to spin every piece of Obama straw into gold. While this put him into ethical pretzels from time to time, he did his job with aplomb. He was effective.
The question of the timing could lead reasonable people to conclude that political motivations could be at work.
President Obama has plenty of administration officials under various controversial clouds. Attorney General Eric Holder in particular has kept his job in the face of various scandals. Obama typically shows great reluctance to fire people who are loyal to him. When people are thrown under the bus, it is when they become a political liability to him. From Reverend Jeremiah Wright to Obama’s “typical white” grandmother to Kathleen Sebelius, embarrassing President Obama personally seems to be the only qualification for falling out of favor. On-the-job performance tends to be peripheral.
As for Carney, he was not about to be indicted for anything. He was doggedly loyal, and quite good at his job of defending the indefensible. He could be burnt out. Or, perhaps Obama needed a jolt of energy heading into the 2014 elections. Current polls show Democrats facing a potential electoral bloodbath.
Only President Obama knows if his actions regarding Shinseki and Carney were pure partisan politics. The real issue is that such a strategy would not work.
Shinseki and Carney have something in common with Sebelius and every other government employee. They work for Barack Obama. He hired them. The bureaucracy did not fail him or let him down, as CNN stated. He is the bureaucracy. He runs it. He did the hiring.
The reason the Obama administration keeps being besieged by badly run departments still comes down to the criticisms leveled at Obama before he ever took office in 2009. He had no experience running any government entity. He had no experience with hiring, firing, or any other managerial functions. He ran a campaign, but that is a completely different animal.
He tends to let his ideological beliefs substitute empirical evidence. Problems are not dealt with until the crisis becomes so big that it cannot be ignored. Obama’s government is slow, reactive and ineffective. Obama ran on a campaign of change, but he stubbornly clings to the status quo until falling poll numbers force his hand.
The departures of Shinseki and Carney may be apolitical, but the evidence based on Obama’s history would suggest otherwise.
There may be more changes, but until the man at the top making the decisions changes his own management style, the problems will not be stemmed by rapid employee turnover.