Conservative Pundits Demand Political Theater Over Obamacare Accountability

Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is the Cabinet official responsible for implementing the Affordable Care Act. That she would testify before Congress about the problems with the law's implementation makes all the sense in the world, given that it is her responsibility. In certain corners of the conservative media, however, Sebelius' October 30 testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee was an act of political cowardice by President Obama, who, by sending Sebelius before Congress, was using her as a "human shield."

Here's the lede to Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger's October 31 column:

A reader remarked last week that Barack Obama is running out of human shields. With the father of ObamaCare unavailable to explain the greatest fiasco of his presidency to Congress, the American people had to settle Wednesday for his surrogate, Kathleen Sebelius.

And here's Fox News pundit Andrea Tantaros on the October 30 edition of The Five:

What Tantaros implied, and what Henninger explicitly stated, was that it should have been Obama sitting before Congress talking about the problems with the website. That makes zero sense in terms of good governance or accountability. Sebelius is the highest ranking government official capable of providing any level of specific detail regarding the flaws with the ACA implementation. The president is necessarily removed from those details because that's how the government works.

More to the point: sitting presidents generally don't testify before Congressional committees. According to the Senate Historical Office, it's happened precisely three times: Gerald Ford appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to discuss why he pardoned Richard Nixon; Woodrow Wilson testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about treaties to end World War I and establish the League of Nations; and Abraham Lincoln testified to the House Judiciary Committee regarding a leak to the press. Were Obama to testify before Congress, he'd be making history. And given that the president, by virtue of his office, is already a perpetually unfolding media circus, demanding that he sit down for a history-making appearance before Congress means you're less interested in accountability than you are in creating a politically damaging spectacle for Obama.

According to Henninger, though, the problems with the Obamacare website constitute "the greatest fiasco of his presidency," so surely Obama, and not some mere Cabinet official, owes an explanation. Well, George W. Bush never testified about the Iraq war fiasco and its many subsidiary fiascoes, which (unlike the ACA's current troubles) resulted in the deaths of many thousands of people. That was Donald Rumsfeld's job. But you can be reasonably certain that neither Henninger nor Tantaros ever once considered Rummy a "human shield." 

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