- - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Plausible deniability is the order of the day at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Everything the administration does is coldly calculated to foster the impression that President Obama is author of all that is good and entirely blameless when things go wrong (as they often do).

When 40 veterans died waiting to see a doctor at Veterans Affairs hospitals in Arizona, the White House insisted they were so disengaged from the scandal that they only knew what had happened after turning on the evening news. “We learned about them through the reports,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. “That’s when we learned about them.”

Then somebody remembered that a show of concern might be useful. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, with great fanfare, accepted the resignation of Robert A. Petzel, the undersecretary in charge of the hospitals. Mr. Carney touted this as a “meaningful development,” though Mr. Petzel’s head did not roll, nor did anyone else’s. The agency had announced in a newsletter last year that Mr. Petzel was going to retire in 2014, and so he did. Nobody is held to account in this administration because nobody is responsible.

Mr. Obama stands by Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. despite the Fast and Furious gunrunning scandal that led to the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and hundreds of others south of the border. Mr. Holder couldn’t be blamed, said the president, because “he’s indicated that he was not aware of what was happening in Fast and Furious; certainly I was not.” Mr. Obama learned about that, too, from watching television.


Someone might think that if anyone knew about the National Security Agency scheme to eavesdrop on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, it would be the president. Uh, well, not necessarily. “It is my understanding,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, “that President Obama was not aware that Chancellor Merkel’s communications were being collected since 2002. That is a big problem.” But just not big enough to bother the president with it.

The Internal Revenue Service officials who targeted Tea Party figures, which is against the law, got paid vacations and bonuses. Mr. Obama didn’t know anything about that, either. “I first learned about it,” he said once more, “from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this.”

Plausible deniability is a tried and tested political tactic designed to protect the man at the top from taking the blame for what his people do in his name. A hermetic seal was installed to surround this Oval Office to keep this president unaware of the many scandals that have bloomed under his watch.

Ignorance is never bliss at any White House, and the president’s professed lack of knowledge about his administration is neither excuse nor amelioration. President Truman kept a plaque on his desk in the Oval Office proclaiming that “the buck stops here.” Mr. Obama prefers life under the president’s desk, where he won’t be bothered by the buck.