As scandals grow to become the norm throughout the Obama administration, his handling of these events also develops a common formula, a checklist of controversy diffusion. There are five steps:
Feign ignorance: You remember the IRS Scandal, Fast and Furious, AP phone record, Obamacare website failures, and now the VA scandal? Apparently, President Obama learned about these issues from newspaper reports. As if the president is just some normal Joe, sans a staff of advisors feeding him up-to-the-minute information regularly.
Feign anger: Upon the president allegedly learning of a scandal, he the proceeds to profess his shock and anger about the issue. Even as news reports show that he knew about the issue for a long time.
Feign responsibility: The president will feign the act of falling on his own sword, repeatedly stating that the buck stops with him.
Delay: Obama will profess his interest in working with investigators on these matters. However, after a sizeable amount of unnecessary obfuscation, withholding of information and stonewalling by the president and his staff, nothing happens. No one pays and no one loses his or her job. Eventually, a few people announce their “retirement” and a few people take paid administrative leave.
Dismiss: After waiting a period of time for things to blow over, even while questions are still being raised regarding the lack of progress in an investigation, the president pronounces the whole thing to be a partisan and “phony scandal.” This allows the administration to dismiss, mock, marginalize the issue, and allow the president get back to his golf game.
The president is running running through this playbook on handling scandals right now, having announced his displeasure and called for an investigation this week after learning about the VA hospital debacle in the newspaper, because the buck stops with him. However, the VA Hospital scandal is different from all of the others he has dealt with so far.
Veterans are a strong willed group who demand (and deserve) answers, accountability, and do not take kindly to dawdling. They are going to demand results yesterday. Because veterans come in all political affiliations, and will not settle for a canned response, it is difficult to paint this issue in a partisan manner. Many Democrats have already broken rank and called for the president to fire Secretary Shinseki.
Additionally, it would cause irreparable damage to the Democratic Party if the president were to dismiss the death of wounded veterans as a phony issue.
Moreover, the VA scandal is opening the eyes of many in the media to the president’s strategy. Columnists are starting to notice the same canned responses, inaction, and smokescreens in this instance and are comparing them with other scandals.
One can only hope that this will bring a higher level of seriousness to scandals, such as Benghazi and force the president to realize that his scandal playbook is no longer an option.
Alex VanNess is the Manager of Public Information for the Center for Security Policy.