Chris Matthews: ObamaCare Rollout and VA Scandal Show the President's 'Lack of Alertness'

When you’ve lost Chris Matthews, have you lost liberal America? The Hardball host stopped by for a visit on the May 30 edition of MSNBC’s NewsNation for an analysis of the resignation of VA Secretary Shinseki and the VA scandal overall.

The former Tip O’Neill staffer didn’t hold back, repeatedly hitting Obama and Shinseki for a lack of alertness regarding the scandal. Matthews was aghast at the utter lack of awareness the president has shown–not just on the VA –but on his signature legislative achievement, ObamaCare. He even insinuated that a lack of cognizance was a part of the president’s habitual behavior, proclaiming [audio here; video below]:


In fact, I think that this is an echo--unfortunately for the president--of his own behavior, and he was not alert of the problem of the rollout on his major piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act. And he let it go all of those months until we actually had the catastrophe, and so this lack of alertness, I think people– one thing I like about election nights and I love them like most of us in the business do, because of the crackle, somebody wins and somebody loses, and people want to see that in the government. They wanna see if the government can respond to a situation quickly, move, make decisions, be efficient and don't waste your money, and take care of the people they are supposed to take care of.        

This is quite the revelation from Mr. Matthews, who in the past has fawned over this president to an uncomfortable degree. While the mainstream media have largely avoided linking President Obama to the VA scandal–most don’t reference him at all–to see Matthews come to the plate and lay blame at the top is noticeable change.

In fact, he went further to hit the Democratic Party more generally, declaring:

These are not honorary positions, president and cabinet secretary, you are supposed to know what’s going on, like a soldier on post somewhere. And secondly, Democrats who believe more in government and have sold the Affordable Care Act and believe in this kind of government role, are the ones most politically responsible.

Matthews criticized the president and Shinseki for a lack of oversight, questioning why they didn’t know about the VA problems in the first place if they were so systemic. It’s a rare bright moment for Matthews, even as, yes, his critique is essentially grounded squarely in his big-government political ideology: Matthews is concerned that his hero is doing a disservice to big-government liberalism by failing to competently run the machinery of government. That said, the media coverage would be significantly stronger if they took Matthews’s example and looked at this scandal as a broader reflection of the president’s often passive nature in dealing with the critical problems that afflict his administration.

A portion of the NewsNation segment is below:

MSNBC
NewsNation
May 30, 2014
11:39 a.m. Eastern

TAMRON HALL, host: There you have it the breaking news of the morning, president Obama accepting the resignation of V.A. Secretary Shinseki. I have got with me Chris Matthews, Colonel Jack Jacobs is also standing by and Chris, I want to start with you, and the president said it was Rick’s (Shinseki)  judgment that he would be a distraction for the task at hand, of course that’s dealing with the long waits  what do you think?

CHRIS MATTHEWS, host of Hardball: I think that the way they scheduled it, the president was intending to accept the resignation this morning, and I think it’s because people expect our top government officials to be on alert, to be responsible as executives. These are not honorary positions, president and cabinet secretary, you are supposed to know what’s going on, like a soldier on post somewhere. And secondly, Democrats who believe more in government and have sold the Affordable Care Act and believe in this kind of government role, are the ones most politically responsible, this is a political decision the president made. If the Democrats don't show some crackle in the way they run the government, the American people will have a problem with that.

TAMRON HALL: And to your point about a political decision, the president noted couple of times his budget has included money for the V.A. System, we know it was back in February that the senate Republicans blocked $24 billion to go to the V.A. health services and education programs and we know that there’s the undercurrent of politics in what is truly a priority here.

MATTHEWS: But the minute he said today, in fact he said it a couple of days ago, if it is a systemic problem, of course, if it’s V.A. wide, I’m gonna deal with it, I’m gonna make a change here. But why didn’t he know about it, why didn’t Shinseki know if it was systemic. And by the way, the idea of a 4 month waiting period to see a doctor is unimaginable.

HALL: Unimaginable. And you have a 152 V.A. hospitals the system starting in 1930, but colonel, let me bring you in on this, I think the nail in the coffin was Secretary Shinseki saying it was an isolated incident exclusive almost to Phoenix and then having to admit he did not know it was more widespread and getting out there on that limb saying no. no, no, it’s Phoenix. And then we learn, it’s not just Phoenix. I think many people–you know and I know, and I took my father to Phoenix, and you had know that it was not just that hospital.

JACK JACOBS, retired Colonel: You know, Chris just laid out the sequence of events really well. Shinseki started out by saying it’s isolated incident, and then it is determined that it is not. And then I think that the real nail was when the Democrats started to abandon Shinseki and the president had no other recourse but to get rid of shinseki. I think that is the sequence.

HALL: And when you have people like congressman Tammy Duckworth saying it is time, she was the latest this morning amongst the Democrats and widely respected, an Iraq war veteran, saying that General Shinseki would be a distraction, how do you survive after that, colonel?

JACOBS: Well, it is almost impossible, and bringing up the whole notion of the congressional support or the lack of it is really important. If we remember back during sequestration, the Department of Veteran Affairs was, I think the only department that actually got an increase in the amount of money that it with was getting in during sequestration, and everybody else was cut. And I think that the congress said, well, we’re gonna give these guys more money, because what they are doing is really, really important, and then to have it fail in the face of having been given lots more money during a difficult time, I think that made life extremely difficult for the entire organization.

HALL: Chris, did the president do a good job explaining the difference in not accepting the resignation of Kathleen Sebelius, but accepting the resignation of Shinseki?

MATTHEWS: No, that wasn’t a clear distinction. In fact, I think that this is an echo, unfortunately for the president of his own behavior and he was not alert of the problem of the rollout on his major piece of legislation the Affordable Care Act. And he let it go all of those months until we actually had the catastrophe, and so this lack of alertness, I think people– one thing I like about election nights and I love them like most of us in the business do, because of the crackle, somebody wins and somebody loses, and people want to see that in the government. They wanna see if the government can respond to a situation quickly, move, make decisions, be efficient and don't waste your money, and take care of the people they are supposed to take care of. We all feel for General Shinseki, but what about that guy waiting right now for a doctor, and is waiting three or for months who may have lost a limb or may have had infection, who may really need help with something, and that is the concern. It is like the Catholic church, my church, they waited they worried about the priests and the cardinals and the bishops, but they should have been worried about the altar boys. That is who they should have been worried about.

Connor Williams
Connor Williams
Connor Williams is a contributing writer for NewsBusters.