We're not in Kansas Anymore, Madam Secretary
The firing that didn't happen in Washington this season is like the incident in the night when the dog didn't bark. You know what I'm talking about. Something significant, even notable for its absence, is President Obama's failure to fire a cabinet secretary for the utter debacle of the health care reform "rollout."
Her name is Kathleen Sebelius, a Democratic governor of a red state when Obama appointed her secretary of health and human services in 2009. The lady comes from Kansas, another place altogether from the hurly burly of Washington. She comes from a fine family governing tradition, as her father was once the governor of Ohio. So Kansas is where she should have stayed on the political map.
Sebelius didn't cut it in Washington. Her patrician manners seemed above the lowly members of Congress who grilled her on Capitol Hill. They tried to get simple answers on how Obama's signature social reform could go so badly wrong in 2013. It was passed and signed into law in early 2010. That is three and a half years to prepare and implement a domestic policy that Democrats have dreamed about for decades.
If done well, health care reform could have lifted the spirits and pocketbooks of a battered nation just in time for Christmas carols, cookies and cider. Obama had a Dickensian year in 2013, too, the most miserable of his presidency. Health care reform, if done well, would have boosted his morale. Presidents are people, too.
I'm not terribly interested in the reasons why it went so wrong, are you? I just know that it was an inexcusable debacle at the wrong moment in time. In politics, ideally, you get the credit if things go right and the blame if your boss looks bad at showtime.
Sebelius may be smart, but she's not a savvy insider in the ways of Washington. Just as important, Washington did not really know her. Granted, it's hard to make a federal bureaucracy move at a brisk clip. Sorry, but she's the one responsible for the whole mess.
What grieves my heart so is the backstory. Obama had the perfect appointee in mind, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, an expert on health care and a campaign advisor. Senators on both sides came out to praise him at his 2009 confirmation hearing as secretary of HHS. Then some trivial tax matter surfaced – small stuff compared to others – and Daschle never made history in the Obama administration. The well-respected Washington player would have gotten the job done cleaner, better, faster.
The national conversation might be very different now but for Obama's cold call to dump Daschle. It's a sad winter tale, but a major presidential mistake at the outset is catching up to Obama - and Sebelius. Let her begone.