News quiz: President Obama and his communications team hope that Americans are: 1) Dumb; 2) Distracted; 3) Numb to government inefficiency; 4) All of above.
Answer: 4, all of the above.
That answer along with utter incompetence are the best explanations for why the White House thought it could get away with claiming that the departure of Veterans Affairs official Robert Petzel was a step toward accountability for its scandalous treatment of war veterans.
Fact is, the department announced in 2013 that Dr. Petzel would retire this year.
“Well, Secretary Shinseki accepted Dr. Petzel’s resignation this afternoon. He was due to retire early next month, and obviously there has been a nomination made for his replacement,” White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough told CBS’s Major Garrett last week. “I leave to Rick the explanation of his decision, but there is no question that this is a termination of his job there before he was planning to go.”
No. This was neither a termination nor a housecleaning. It was a scapegoating. For all of its 21st-century savvy in the field of campaign technology, the Obama White House has repeatedly proven that its communications philosophy is stuck in the 20th century. Before the Internet gave voters instantaneous access to information, including every public utterance of the president and his team, White House strategists could hope to wear out the truth: If you said a lie enough, people might believe it.
It’s harder to BS the public these days. White House press secretary Jay Carney still tries. On Monday, he repeatedly suggested that the American Legion had praised the move.
“The American Legion said that the group looks at Petzel’s resignation as a, quote, step towards addressing the leadership problem at the VA. So I think that undercuts the assertion that that is not a meaningful development.”
Carney cited the American Legion nine times during the briefing.
Unfortunately for Carney and his boss, ABC’s intrepid White House correspondent Jonathan Karl has access to the Internet. “It turns out, however, the American Legion had issued a statement dismissing the resignation as ‘business as usual,’ ” Karl wrote.
The statement calls for the removal of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, whose firing would actually be a measure of accountability. Writes Karl:
When asked about the discrepancy, the White House pointed ABC News to articles in The Washington Times and USA Today that posted on Friday and quoted American Legion officials calling the resignation a “step towards addressing the leadership problem at the VA.”
The official quoted, spokesman John Raughter, acknowledged saying it was a step forward but not much of a step.
“It was a small step,” Raughter told ABC News. “It was going to happen anyway. So, I suppose it was better than if he had stayed on the job.”
Was Raughter suggesting the problems at the VA had been addressed in a significant way?
“Not at all,” he said. “We feel there is a cultural change that needs to be made.”
In Obama’s defense, he inherited a dysfunctional VA, and the agency has been overwhelmed by veterans returning from two wars he is winding down. But he pledged to reform the VA after blasting the Bush administration in 2007. Instead of getting better, the health care bureaucracy has worsened and become corrupted. Long delays are covered up and veterans are dying while awaiting care.
It’s a policy travesty magnified by an insulting public relations strategy.