The overlooked Shinseki lesson: How the two parties differ today

As Democrats broke with Obama and called for his removal, the contrast with GOP conformity was never more stark

Topics: Eric Shinseki, Department of Veterans Affairs, VA scandal, Ron Fournier, false equivalence, Simon Maloy, Editor's Picks, Democrats, Republicans, partisanship, Scandal, ,

The overlooked Shinseki lesson: How the two parties differ todayEric Shinseki (Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

The scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs forced the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki Friday morning. It became obvious he was on his way out as more Democrats began demanding his removal, including former VA assistant secretary and Iraq War vet Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who had defended Shinseki.

Ironically, Ron Fournier – under fire by my colleague Simon Maloy for yet another “both sides are to blame” column, this one on immigration – tweeted at me this morning rather snarkily:

I answered that of course both parties bear blame for long-term problems at the VA – but not for the immigration deadlock. Sure, the VA was poorly managed under George W. Bush and it has remained troubled under President Obama. And sure, we can blame two botched Bush wars, one of them unnecessary, for some of the VA’s troubles. But the buck stops with the current president.

The thing is, most Democrats agree. Even many in Congress. By late Thursday, according to the Washington Post, a fifth of the Senate Democratic caucus had called for Shinseki’s removal, which Obama initially resisted, as had at least two dozen House Democrats. Those numbers already were climbing Friday morning before Shinseki’s resignation was announced.

Contrast that with the nearly lockstep political behavior by the GOP since Obama became president. Now, on immigration – Fournier’s latest issue — a few Republican senators deserve credit for breaking with their party and supporting the bill that passed the Senate. But House Speaker John Boehner has kept it bottled up on his side, and anti-immigrant Rep. Steve King has taken to bragging that his position dominates the House today. There is no question about which party is to blame for the impasse; it’s the GOP.

You Might Also Like

It’s not just immigration reform. Once Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell laid down the law — that there would be no GOP votes for Obama’s priorities, because that would make them appear to be “bipartisan” – there could be no bipartisan attempts to solve the nation’s problems. On the Affordable Care Act, Democrats accepted hundreds of GOP amendments that compromised or sold out progressive priorities, but never got GOP votes for the bill. “It was absolutely critical that everybody be together,” McConnell told the New York Times, “because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out. It’s either bipartisan or it isn’t.”

The debt ceiling, once demagogued a bit but routinely raised by both parties, became under Obama “a hostage worth ransoming,” in McConnell’s words. I could go on – I have gone on, in other columns – forever.

In the case of the VA, by contrast, many Democrats lent their voices to the throng of people, including Republicans, saying a leadership change was essential. On Friday, the president agreed, and accepted Shinseki’s resignation. Of course, that won’t stop the braying from the partisans. RNC chair Reince Priebus, fresh from sharing a platform with “Duck Dynasty” bigot Phil Robertson, said, “It’s past time for the president to step up and fix this mess” at the VA. “Until then, personnel changes aren’t an answer to the problem for our veterans. It’s just musical chairs.” The GOP will forever move the goalposts for this president.

For the record, I know Fournier was trying to bait me with his question. He thinks intellectual honesty requires that I declare the VA scandal all Obama’s fault, and thus my answer, to him, displays my own weakness for false equivalence. So be it: Intellectual honesty requires that I say what I think, which is that both parties bear some blame for this mess.

There was a time when the VA itself wasn’t a partisan issue – former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole reminded us of that when he came out to support Shinseki a few weeks ago. Maybe fixing the VA can become a bipartisan priority once again, but I wouldn’t hold my breath as long as Obama is president.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...