It’s the opinion of the PoliticusUSA editorial board (Sarah Jones and Jason Easley) that “letting” Gen. Eric Shinseki resign was a mistake for two reasons, aside from the obvious fact that the problems at the VA are systemic and chronic. Furthermore, this action was taken prior to the correct procedural review process that should have taken place after the immediate review, which would have broadened the scope and taken more time.
In truth, there’s no way to know if Shinseki’s management style had anything to do with the wait list problems. But there is evidence that these problems were around before him, and further evidence that one of the major problems is funding. Funding comes from Congress. Thus, two of the biggest reasons why accepting Shinseki’s resignation was a mistake are:
1) The problem has a much smaller chance of being honestly addressed now, as there is no pressure on Republicans to finally fund the VA.
The most important consequence of accepting Shinseki’s resignation is that it suggests the problem rested with him and allows craven politicians to kick the problem down the road. He resigned because he seems to be one of the few who actually put the VA first; he didn’t want to be a distraction to getting the issues resolved. But in fact, by accepting his resignation, Democrats have allowed Republicans to take refuge in blaming him and President Obama. Prior to this, Speaker John Boehner knew better than to blame Shinseki, as he did not want to leave his party vulnerable to the inevitable scrutiny over their consistent failure to support veterans legislatively. But after the resignation, Boehner was preening with blame.
This means that Republicans (and thus the media) will soon alternate between forgetting about the VA delays and blaming Obama for them. Neither of these two will solve the problem.
As long as Shinseki was in office and Republicans (and some Democrats) were calling for him to resign, the issue was getting notice. Republicans viewed it as a political opportunity, and missed the very thing Boehner was smart enough to see. It was a short lived “opportunity” that would backfire. Just as it was beginning to backfire, and the country’s attention was finally being drawn to the real issue of the unsustainable cost of a failure to budget two wars, Democrats caved.
2) This is also a lost political chance for Democrats.
Yes, it’s an election year, and that’s why some Democrats caved and those running for election were first out of the gate calling for Shinseki’s resignation, as if that would do anything but take away a current attack of Republicans. But it was foolish. Republicans were far more vulnerable on the issue than Democrats.
Republicans are the party who voted against veterans and expanding the funding to the VA. They are the party that gave the President 2 billion a year less than he asked for in his VA budget. Republicans were vulnerable on this, and they deserved to be taken to task for it. Not only would this have given Democrats something to campaign on, but it would have actually been a part of doing the right thing. A win win, politically speaking.
Now that Shinseki is gone and Republicans got a whiff of how this scandal was going to land in their laps, we will probably not hear much of it. After all, Democrats and Independent Bernie Sanders have been trying to get veterans’ legislation passed and they have been screaming to anyone who would listen for years. No one cared.
Finally the public cared. The media cared. This was an opportunity to have this dialogue about the real cost of wars and what it means when someone claims to “support the troops”. You see, after they are troops, they are veterans. Democrats are legislatively the party that supports the veterans. This matters, because it is the honorable thing to do.
Shinseki is a courageous man, who stood up to the Bush administration upon their invasion of Iraq. He is also a disabled veteran. The notion that he somehow didn’t care about veterans is totally preposterous. He has a track record of integrity.
So Democrats allowed another good person to be pushed out of service by Republican howls. If Democrats think this was a sacrifice necessary to get about fixing the VA, they don’t understand this media or Republican Party. No one will care once Republicans stop howling. It will be all about Obama now, and that is nothing but a huge distraction. Republicans will paint the resignation as a sign of guilt and use it against vulnerable Democrats across the country.
Republicans don’t care about fixing the VA. They only wanted to use this problem for political football. Democrats should have let them. It was a game Republicans were destined to lose.