PBS Analyst Mark Shields Says Sebelius 'Stepped Up Manfully' to Take Obamacare Blame; David Brooks Says She's No 'Dynamo'

April 12th, 2014 9:13 AM

While HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius was getting a polite shove out the door, PBS NewsHour analyst Mark Shields offered a note of disclosure: “Well, first of all, let me just admit up front, Kathleen Sebelius has been a personal friend. For 46 years, I have known her.” He even oddly said she “stepped up manfully, to use a bad adverb” in taking the blame for Obamacare.

But Shields and his usual echo-chamber David Brooks disagreed. Brooks said she wasn’t a “dynamo” at HHS, which caused Shields to start touting her. Anchor Judy Woodruff had gently asked, like a good feminist, “What’s her legacy?”

Shields first said that every new White House assumes ever more control over their agenda and diminishes the authority of Cabinet officers. (I’d add those Cabinet officers have been almost absent from TV.) Brooks then added what Shields felt he had to rebut:

BROOKS: I wasn’t – haven’t been thrilled with the way the president sort of off-loaded blame during the whole Web page fiasco. I thought he publicly shouldn’t have done that. He should have said — taken it on himself, just as a management, as a leadership technique.

I think it’s fair to say a couple of things. First, she was — with all the reputation that has gone on, and it’s very negative about her around Washington, she was certainly not a dynamo at HHS. And, sometimes, to move an organization, you have to be just a — just a dynamo.

And it seems that she was not that. Nonetheless, it’s also true that secretaries do not run their agencies, that the agencies run their agencies, and the secretaries can have only a limited effect on what’s going on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the bureaucracy.

DAVID BROOKS: The bureaucracy, the career people, are really running the thing. And it was always going to be hard to get government workers, who are not Silicon Valley tech — tech geeks, to start up a pretty ambitious Web page — Web site. And, so, I’m a little less down on her than is the common currency right now in Washington.

Shields then leapt to the defense of his friend and her “manfully” taking on Obamacare:

MARK SHIELDS: I would take exception with David, in the sense that — I mean, I’m sure David talks to a lot of people. I think that Kathleen got high marks from the kind of cliques in the Cabinet, all right, in Washington. And the people whom I know and who I respect and whose performance I respect were high on Kathleen. The people who worked for her were fiercely loyal and very committed and kind of emotional in support.

She was twice elected as a Democratic governor of Kansas, the reddest of Republican states, and she was one of the five best governors in the country, according to Time magazine. So, I mean, she was not — she was a person of considerable accomplishment when she came here. And she was key to Barack Obama. I mean, without Barack — she — when Hillary Clinton became the woman candidate in 2007, Kathleen Sebelius was one of the few major women officeholders who endorsed Barack Obama.

Woodruff also apparently wanted a round of feminist hosannas for Hillary Clinton for surviving a shoe-thrower in Las Vegas:

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, very quickly, 45 seconds. Hillary Clinton, the other possible presidential candidate, had a shoe thrown at her, Mark, in Las Vegas yesterday. She ducked. What does it say about her character, do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: She handled it superbly. There are very few unscripted, spontaneous moments in politics. Yesterday was one of them in Las Vegas. And Hillary Clinton showed humor, she showed grace, and she showed a certain self-deprecating quality. I thought it was a ten-strike for her.   

Brooks could only joke about they should throw a flip-flop, something that wouldn’t hurt.