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Ed Driscoll

Meanwhile, Back at the V.A.

June 2nd, 2014 - 3:07 pm

As Allahpundit writes today regarding the Sgt. Bergdahl debacle, “Old theory: Obama did this to bring the Taliban to the bargaining table. New theory: Obama did this to get the VA scandal off the front page. Think it’ll work? And even if it does, which scandal hurts him more?”

They’re both spectacular implosions, but we shouldn’t let the latest disaster completely wipe the previous one off the pages of the MSM so quickly. And fortunately, in his latest USA Today column Glenn Reynolds reminds readers that it’s still an ongoing story, one that exposes the greed inherent in socialism:

People sometimes think that government or “nonprofit” operations will be run more honestly than for-profit businesses because the businesses operate on the basis of “greed.” But, in fact, greed is a human characteristic that is present in any organization made up of humans. It’s all about incentives.

And, ironically, a for-profit medical system might actually offer employees less room for greed than a government system. That’s because VA patients were stuck with the VA. If wait times were long, they just had to wait, or do without care. In a free-market system, a provider whose wait times were too long would lose business, and even if the employees faked up the wait-time numbers, that loss of business would show up on the bottom line. That would lead top managers to act, or lose their jobs.

In the VA system, however, the losses didn’t show up on the bottom line because, well, there isn’t one. Instead, the losses were diffused among the many patients who went without care — visible to them, but not to the people who ran the agency, who relied on the cooked-books numbers from their bonus-seeking underlings.

And, contrary to what [Young Ezra] Klein suggests, that’s the problem with socialism. The absence of a bottom line doesn’t reduce greed and self-dealing — it removes a constraint on greed and self-dealing. And when that happens, ordinary people pay the price. Keep that in mind, when people suggest that free-market systems are somehow morally inferior to socialism.

The V.A. scandal also exposes the weaknesses of Obama himself. As Peggy Noonan noted late last week, “The VA Scandal Is a Crisis of Leadership:”

Mr. Obama said, when he first ran for president in 2008, that the VA system was a mess and he’d clean it up. It has gotten worse under his watch. He must be shocked. He told it to get better! He said the words!

And the word is everything. The act, the deed, the follow-through, the making it happen doesn’t seem to loom large on his agenda of concerns. Which makes this progressive era different from those of FDR and LBJ, who appropriately feared scandal and mess and kept a sharp eye on what was happening.

Some of this is surely due to the culture of Washington, where they don’t hold the idea of management in high regard. Managing isn’t interesting, like art or talking. It’s not high-class. It’s what boring people do! Interesting people make speeches and spin the press and smoke out the agenda and flip the narrative.

The interesting people who do that go on to become fabulously wealthy consultants. They’re powerful, part of the Washington establishment. Reporters cultivate them.

Nobody cares what managers know. “I’m a middle-level bureaucrat at the General Services Administration. I take my work seriously. I’m trying to encourage efficiency and make sure the taxpayer’s money isn’t wasted.” “Excuse me, there’s David Plouffe. ”

The current lack of serious and effective management damages the progressive project because it presents that project as utterly cynical. It presents progressives as people who don’t really care. If they cared, they’d oversee. They’d make sure it works when the rubber hits the road. They’d make sure the thing they supposedly want to happen (first-rate treatment for vets, for instance) happens.

Instead we have showbiz: the romantic narrative of the knight who wants to help is everything—not actually helping.

Why do Democrats put up with this? It is going to drag them down.

Because style and linguistic nuance trump competence — it mattered not that in reality, Barack Obama had less DC experience than Dan Quayle when he announced his presidential bid; he looked and sounded great — he sounded exactly like the chattering class themselves. Thus assured Obama was in the club, his lack of qualifications for what he would do if he won didn’t matter.

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When you control your own payment for health care or anything else, you are a valued customer. When you prepay through taxes, you are considered a cost and a statistic.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obama's standing within both the big media and the public face of the liberal Democratic crowd only falls if it's deemed in the interest of the next Democratic presidential nominee for it to fall -- i.e., if they feel they have to claim it's not their policies that failed, it's the guy carrying them out who fouled up (an option far more likely if Hillary gets the nod, and wants to run as her husband's third term, and not as Obama's).

As for savaging the vice-president, just wait and see if Sheriff Joe sticks a toe in the water about a 2016 presidential run. Won't matter if it's Team Clinton, the Liz Warren supporters or anyone else inside the Beltway on the liberal side -- Biden's savaging will make Johnson's pre-11/22/63 treatment by the Kennedy acolytes look like a love letter by comparison.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
You bring the beer, and I'll bring the popcorn! Let the best reality show commence.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
With respect to the VA and the VA's organizational culture, why is it not remembered that ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST is about the VA? (The novel was written by someone with years of experience working on the inside of government-run veteran care, a roman à clef studded with fictionalizations of some of the actual VA personnel of the day.)
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
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