Democrats lop off Shinseki's head to save their own

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John Kass discusses Eric Shinseki's resignation and the party politics behind it.

The ritual of the severed political head is by definition a theatrical business.

Once the head is tossed in the dust at the feet of those who loudly demanded it, they say they really didn't want it.

The chief head lopper never holds his work by the hair to shout, "Are you entertained?!" to the angry mob. Instead, it's a quiet affair, with the chief lopper somberly explaining that the sacrifice was a fine person who offered to resign for the greater good of the people.

Throughout history it has happened to lowly bureaucrats and unlucky military commanders, and now it's happened to retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, who until quite recently was secretary of veterans affairs for President Barack Obama.

Republicans had demanded the head, but actually they hoped Shinseki would languish, as the VA was devastated by explosive charges of falsified records, rampant mismanagement and the death of veterans under its care.

But when a parade of congressional Democrats facing re-election in November began calling for it, Obama lopped it clean for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her posse.

Minutes after Obama made the announcement, Dr. Ben Carson, the celebrated neurosurgeon and conservative considering a presidential campaign, told me it didn't solve a thing.

"We all knew that that was coming," Carson said in an interview Friday on the Kass and Cohn program on WLS-AM. "That should be no surprise. But I hope no one believes that that solves the problem. This is a systemic problem that's secondary to a system that is inherently inefficient."

Carson said the VA mess "gives us a window into what happens when we put everybody's health care under the auspices of government bureaucrats."

"I've worked in many VA hospitals, and there are wonderful, dedicated people there," he said. "But the problem is, there are so many levels of bureaucrats between the patients and the health care provider that it inherently makes the system incredibly inefficient. This is not what we want."

The VA scandals plagued Obama and the Democrats on several political fronts.

The most obvious is the urgency of re-election campaigns. Democrats don't want this business hounding them in the fall. Shinseki's ouster gives the appearance of change. And Obama, who made the VA an issue when he was a senator, sees his credibility continue to erode.

But that's not the worst of it for Democrats.

The VA is a giant, multibillion-dollar system. And the scandal, especially the allegations of separate appointment books and veterans dying as they waited for proper care, is fundamentally threatening on thematic grounds.

Why? Because the scandal illustrates the inherent problems of giant government systems. And Obama's government reach into America's health care system through his Affordable Care Act is unprecedented.

"We're transferring that power to the government, and the biggest transfer in history was the Affordable Care Act," said Carson, "taking the most important thing we have and placing that in the hands of the government."

Politicians from the Republican corporate establishment had been signaling a willingness to soften their attacks on the president's Affordable Care Act.

But the VA scandal being prominently featured in the news offers conservatives like Carson an opportunity to compare it to Obamacare. And the president and his fellow Democrats certainly don't want that.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, the Illinois Democrat who was recently placed on the select committee investigating the Benghazi, Libya, tragedy, was one of those Democrats calling for Shinseki's ouster.

"What I said was that over the last 48 hours, he became a distraction," Duckworth told me in a telephone interview. "How do we improve health care for veterans should be our focus. We went from talking about veterans needs to political discussions about the secretary."

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