The Good Scandal

The controversy over whatever might have happened at the Veterans Health Administration, particularly the V.A. facility in Phoenix, is going to get some elevated attention now that President Obama came out before the press to address it. If there has to be an administration scandal, this is a good one to have. Let me explain what I mean.

The most important reason is that there is actually a problem at the V.A., or more correctly a series of problems, that need to be solved. If some officials in Phoenix falsifying records to make it seem like veterans were getting care quicker than they actually were is what it takes to generate the will to solve it, then that's a good thing.

This is something we sometimes pay lip service to with regard to scandals, but in this case it's genuinely meaningful. For instance, I'm not the only one who has said about Benghazi that if what we get out of the various investigations is a better understanding of how to protect our embassies and consulates overseas, then that's all to the good. But the reality is, that's a fairly narrow issue requiring technical expertise. Since I'm not an expert in embassy security and neither is pretty much anyone in Congress, none of us is likely to have much constructive to say about it. In contrast, the problems with the V.A. are large and longstanding—but they aren't rocket science. Maybe what they need is just resources, and maybe it's a reform of some of their systems for things like processing disability claims, but unless there's something we haven't yet discovered, it doesn't seem like the problems are impossible to solve. So if the investigations by the administration, the media, and Congress clarify exactly what the problems are and how they can be addressed,

This is also an issue that is somewhat less likely to devolve into too much inane Benghazi-like posturing. No one's talking about executive malfeasance, or high crimes and misdemeanors, or impeachment. It's just not that kind of issue. Which will tend to limit the degree of Republicans' enthusiasm for turning the whole thing into one of their circuses of feigned outrage, because if they don't think they can use it to effectively bash Barack Obama, then there's only so long it will sustain their interest (and besides, they still have the actual Benghazi silliness to occupy them). Conservatives are going to busy themselves for a while calling for Eric Shinseki to resign or be fired.

And as I wrote earlier today at the Post, the most basic responsibility Democrats have when they take control of government is to make sure it does what it's supposed to. The problems at the V.A. go back long before Barack Obama took office, it's true. And it's true that much of the difficulties the agency is now experiencing are a product of the dramatic increase in veterans with medical needs and disability claims as a result of George W. Bush's wars. And as Obama said in his press conference today, the administration has already made lots of progress on many of those problems. But Democrats have to make government work, not make government work better than it used to. 

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