Friday, May 30, 2014

Shinseki resigns

Eric Shinseki tendered his resignation as Secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department to the President.

The more I've heard about the VA, the less it seems like Shinseki was the root of the problem. He inherited a dysfunctional mess of a department. Firing him — sorry, "his resignation" — will not magically fix things. As USC professor of public administration Catherine G. Burke noted in a piece written prior to Shinseki's resignation,

A new secretary, even after the staggeringly long time it would take for nomination and confirmation, will take months more to learn who is who in the department: who is trustworthy, who is or is not competent, and which systems are the root cause of the problems. No one gets four stars without being extraordinarily capable; thus Shinseki may actually be the best person to identify the sources of the problems and to get them fixed.
If anybody, especially the blame-first, ask-questions-later Congresscritters who hopped aboard the stomp-Shineski bus, had any proof that Shinseki wasn't trying to fix things, or was even making things worse, I could see the point in dumping him. If there were a bureaucratic Superman waiting in the wings to solve the VA's problems, I could see the point in dumping him. As things stand, though, I think Burke's right: the best-case scenario is that any real effort to fix the VA has been set back by months or years. (As a side note, remember that it was Shinseki who correctly forecast the effort it would take to carry out the G. W. Bush administration's tragically misguided war in Iraq. He was derided by Rumsfeld, but that's one reason we consider Rumsfeld a blind, ideologically captured tool, isn't it? Shinseki has demonstrated he can think clearly and cogently, and surely deserves his four stars.)

Maybe he should have had more on the ball. Maybe he should have known more and done more. Or maybe the rest of us are too quick to look for easy scapegoats. There are too many unanswered questions about why the VA is in the sorry shape it's in to take comfort or satisfaction from Shinseki's ousting. I have little confidence that the idiot lawmakers who led the mob calling for his scalp have either the wit or tha steadfastness it will take to fix things. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some of them were complicit in allowing it to happen. They remind me of Claude Rains' Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca — "shocked, shocked" by the perfidy of the establishment, but anxious to conceal their own dirty hands.

It's at times like this that I throw up my hands in exasperation at our society's shortsightedness, impatience and thoughtlessness. No wonder we have so many intractable social problems.

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