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How Sebelius Hangs On

Nov 11, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 09 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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As surely as the Obamacare rollout has been a disaster, the calls are now ringing throughout Washington, especially in conservative ranks, for Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to resign. It won’t happen. And if The Scrapbook has its way, it shouldn’t happen, either. 

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Of course, in a more rational world, Sebelius would, at the very least, have offered her resignation to President Obama. The Affordable Care Act is the hallmark legislation of the Obama presidency, and it was Sebelius’s job to make sure that its introduction went smoothly, with maximum political advantage to her boss. Instead, Obamacare’s debut has been catastrophic—and worse, has revealed not just widespread incompetence but a systematic pattern of lying to the public as well. Logic demands that somebody’s head should roll.

The problem, however, is that the United States does not have a parliamentary system of government, and the notion of cabinet secretaries coming and going as the winds blow—or sacrificing themselves when things go haywire—is alien to our political culture. Kathleen Sebelius’s resignation, or dismissal by the president, would be seen (correctly) as an admission of error, tacit recognition that the critics of Obamacare have a point. To President Obama and his fellow Democrats, this is unacceptable: Loss of face is taken as seriously in America as it is in the inscrutable Orient. 

Indeed, so resistant is our system to resignation on principle that National Journal offered a series of fascinating reasons last week why Obama won’t fire Sebelius: because she endorsed him for president, over Hillary Clinton, early in 2008; because the fight to confirm her successor would be politically debilitating; because Sebelius and Obama share an affection for basketball. These “reasons” would be meaningless—in fact, incomprehensible—in, say, London or Paris; but they make sense in Washington. Even the one about basketball.

And from The Scrapbook’s point of view, it’s probably just as well. Yes, in a democratic system, there must be accountability when things go wrong. But the best argument against Obamacare has been Obamacare itself. And so long as Kathleen Sebelius and a string of lesser officials keep presenting themselves to Congress to apologize, to make excuses, to take the blame, to dismiss criticism, to acknowledge error, above all to shield Barack Obama, and generally to present as sorry a spectacle as we’ve seen in the executive branch in recent decades, The Scrapbook is content for now. Pass the popcorn.

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