Friday, May 30, 2014

Why the Shinseki resignation was the pragmatic thing to do; and why that pisses off this pragmatist

When the story about the problems at the Phoenix VA gained national attention, the media could have launched journalistic investigations into what created the problem. And Congress could have held hearings to educate both themselves and the public about what went wrong.

But that's not what they did. Both groups determined that it was in their self-interests to engage in finger-pointing and scapegoating. And so the discussion centered around whether or not General Shinseki should resign. That fed the media's need for the hysteria that generates good linkbait and it gave politicians running for re-election a 5-second sound bite to assure voters they cared about the issue.

Once that frenzi got going, even people like Rep. Tammy Duckworth - who had originally focused on fixing the real problems - decided to join in the call for Shinseki's resignation because nothing was going to get done until/unless that was taken off the table. That's what pragmatists who actually care about veterans have to do once this kind of thing gets going. I suspect that was also what the conversation between General Shinseki and President Obama was all about earlier today.

What pisses me off about that is not the pragmatism demonstrated by that response. Its that it all makes the challenge of solving this problem even harder. Here's what Catherine Burke - an expert in public administration - wrote just prior to the announcement about Shinseki's resignation.
Given the general’s history and capability, he has actually made many things much better at the VA during his term of office. Forcing him out now is likely to make the situation at the VA worse — not better — as there will be no one in place for some time to actually take charge to fix the problem. A new secretary, even after the staggeringly long time it would take for nomination and confirmation, will take months more to learn who is who in the department: who is trustworthy, who is or is not competent, and which systems are the root cause of the problems. No one gets four stars without being extraordinarily capable; thus Shinseki may actually be the best person to identify the sources of the problems and to get them fixed.
As long as the media and politicians find it in their self-interests to engage in hysterical linkbait and 5-second soundbites, we'll continue to find ourselves caught up in this kind of frenzi rather than engaged in pragmatic problem-solving. Our power to change things lies in not following the linkbait, not engaging in the hysteria, and not buying the sound bites. That's something President Obama has been asking us to do for a very long time now.
I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate...

Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will.

3 comments:

  1. The best outcome I can imagine,
    beyond all the improvements Gen. Shinseki left behind,
    is the possibility of rehiring him,
    as a consulting manager,
    after the fan stops slinging stuff around.

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  3. I like jack's suggestion. The new acting director, while a veteran of the workings of the VA is mart, having Gen Shinseki, as a "kitchen" counselor would be brilliant. I feared the time it would take to get a new man up to speed there also. It saddens me that they weren't aware of secret scheduling books, that really should have been caught before the press went nuts. Everyone should have been focusing how to handle the problem, instead of a witch hunt lynching party of Shinseki. Idiots.

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