Medical Tuesday Blog
Obama’s ‘Horrible Bosses 3’ Audition
The president’s playbook when things go wrong: Deny knowledge, blame hapless subordinates
Announcing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s resignation. Reuters
Vice President Joe Biden lamented earlier this year that there were too many Americans stuck in a “dead-end job.” If only he had noted how many work near his office.
Of all the reputations Barack Obama has built over these years, the one that may figure most into his struggling presidency is the one that has received the least attention: He is a lousy boss. Every administration has its share of power struggles, dysfunction and churn. Rarely, if ever, has there been one that has driven more competent people from its orbit—or chewed up more professional reputations.
The focus this week is on Chuck Hagel, and the difficulty the White House is having finding the next secretary of defense. The charitable explanation is that lame-duck executives always have a challenge finding a short-termer to mop up the end of a presidency. The more honest appraisal came from a former Defense official who told Politico that Michèle Flournoy—a leading contender who removed herself from consideration—didn’t “want to be a doormat” in an administration that likes its failed foreign policy, and is keeping it.
“Doormat” has been the job description for pretty much every Obama employee. The president bragged in 2008 that he would assemble in his cabinet a “Team of Rivals.” What he failed to explain to any of the poor saps is that they’d be window dressing for a Team of Select Brilliant Political Types Who Already Had All the Answers: namely, himself and the Valerie Jarretts and David Axelrods of the White House.
These days, what able-minded Democrat would want to work for a boss who asks hires to check their brains at the door and then read from the talking points? Respected economist Christina Romer came in as Mr. Obama’s first head of his Council of Economic Advisers; she left after 18 months, tired of putting out imaginary numbers in support of the stimulus. Former Marine Commandant Jim Jones lasted about the same duration as national security adviser, until he wearied of saluting the political gurus.
The experienced Bill Daley came in 2011 as the chief of staff tasked with repairing Mr. Obama’s relations with the business community. He left a year later, having been stripped of many duties and trashed by the White House to the press. The sage Leon Panetta stepped up as defense secretary in 2011; he too left after 20 months of getting his head patted. The folks who look smartest now are those who fled early, while the fleeing was still relatively good—Rahm Emanuel, Austan Goolsbee, Larry Summers, Peter Orszag, Vivek Kundra.
Who would want to work for a boss who micromanages everything but takes no responsibility when things don’t work out? This president’s playbook for controversy: Deny knowledge, blame subordinates. Mr. Obama fails to recognize the threat of ISIS; it’s the fault of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. The administration cancels White House tours to ratchet up the pain of the sequester, then blames the Secret Service for the uproar. The ObamaCare website fails; Mr. Obama faults the Department of Health and Human Services (run then by Kathleen Sebelius ) for not telling him of the problem. Veterans Affairs wilts under the scandal of waiting lists; the president claims he read about it in the news.
Who would want to work for a boss whose experiments in big government all but guarantee their reputation will be ruined in the aftermath of a bureaucratic collapse? Ms. Sebelius was once the governor of Kansas. She will be remembered as the woman who oversaw the most disastrous government rollout in history. Steven Miller will always be the guy who was running the IRS when the targeting scandal broke. Eric Shinseki was awarded three bronze stars and two purple hearts in Vietnam. He’ll be remembered for the waiting list cover-up at Veterans Affairs, an agency that is the model for ObamaCare.
And who wants to work for a boss who doesn’t have your back? . . . As Mr. Hagel was kicked to the curb this week, an anonymous White House campaign heaped the administration’s foreign-policy failures on the departing Republican.
Not that Ms. Sebelius or Mr. Shinseki and others didn’t deserve to have to resign; they oversaw disasters. The question so many potential nominees have about working for this White House goes to that very point: Is it possible to have any other experience working for Mr. Obama—a boss who doesn’t listen, views everything politically, always thinks he’s right, and whose policies are a recipe for a lost reputation? Hey Washington: Don’t all put your hands up at once.