Never underestimate the power of a White House scandal; opposition politicians feast on them the way insects feast on excrement, mostly because of the extra media hits. The weekend has passed in a blur of various versions of a twofold blame game, one fold being the one with the Secret Service and the prostitutes, and the second fold being the one with the General Services Administration (GSA) and the overspending, or Putagate (for the Spanish word for “prostitute”) and Marthagate (for former GSA head Martha Johnson).
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has an interesting perspective on the role of the Oval Office in both stories, if there must be one at all. In the case of Putagate, the director of the Secret Service has been fully invested in resolving the situation. Not so for Marthagate, in which the titular Martha admitted that she hadn’t exercised the proper oversight of her own agency’s spending. Thus, per Collins’s logic, the former must have gotten better orders from above than the latter.
It’s certainly a more insightful take than that of certain people who have defaulted to blaming President Obama for everything. (I won’t name names, but let’s say her updo is bigger than her intellect.) Collins’s central point is that the hierarchy counts: An agency director is more answerable to the president than its individual staffers, and the president’s judgment in hiring/nomination/contract renewal has a greater impact for one than the other.
But even if Marthagate is more of a problem for Obama than Putagate, what was he supposed to do? Once spending rules are in place – as, according to insiders, they were – the Oval Office has done its job. It becomes the responsibility of the director to make sure the rules are being followed. To ask for anything beyond this is to ask for micro-management that is both unnecessary and unbecoming of the president.
I wish we could expect federal employees to be adults and accept the risks of lavish spending and palling around with putas at face value. If they can’t, even when anyone with a camera phone can catch them, it speaks to a problem in Washington bigger than the president of the day.
Vacation update: Took the Hiawatha Line to Mall of America. As much as I know about the Twin Cities in the abstract, navigating the streets is harder than I expected, partly due to their lack of signage and partly due to our lack of a map (since corrected). Buses are more punctual than in Winnipeg and have an easier time getting from point A to point B, but are less up-to-date. Light rail makes up for it.