Tuesday, June 3, 2014

An Ill-Starred Political Career

The bumpy history of Kathleen Sebelius has met more than the average share of disasters. Whether you call it luck, chance, or fate, it seems unfair that she has been left holding the bag - left to suddenly have to deal with a difficult problem or responsibility because someone else has decided he does not want to deal with it.

In 2007, a tornado destroyed most of the town of Greensburg, Kansas. The destruction of the buildings was almost complete. Seeing an opportunity, green politicians decided that Greensburg, aptly named, could be their chance to construct an example of a planned environmentally-friendly community.

By ensuring that each of rebuilding was recognized as green, the bureaucrats could unlock plentiful grants to fund cutting-edge technology and embed it into the town from the ground up. Writing for the Associated Press, reporter Roxana Hegeman notes:

But local leaders were enthralled by an idea proposed by then-Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and other clean-energy proponents, who saw a blank slate on which to create a better place. The Kansas prairie offered plentiful sunshine and powerful winds to provide power.

In addition to the insurance settlements and other private funding which would have normally been available for reconstruction anyway, approximately $75 million in grants - money from ordinary taxpayers in other communities - funded expensive projects designed to meet high technological standards.

The landscape is dotted with windmills, solar panel fields, and odd cylinder-shaped houses. The futuristic, environmentally friendly, energy efficient, high-tech town is also built to withstand tornadoes like the one which destroyed it in 2007.

But there's one problem: very few people want to live there.

The government has been unsuccessful in repopulating the city. Houses and businesses, new and never occupied, stand empty, having cost millions of dollars.

The reasons vary: some people don't want to live there because the cost of living is much higher; maintaining these homes, schools, and stores takes more money, and more work, than normal structures.

Others don't want to live there because of aesthetics. The sky is cluttered with windmills and the horizon with solar panel arrays. Many of the houses are concrete domes.

Some choose not to live there because of the extra hassle required to operate all the green equipment and to ensure that everything is done to green standards. Washing the dishes or mowing the lawn suddenly becomes complex and time-consuming.

The enthusiasm of green experts left Kathleen Sebelius in the awkward situation of having orchestrated the funding of a project which few people seemed to want. $75 million in government funds were used to build houses which now stand empty and build streets on which nobody now drives. Windmills, paid for by taxpayers, generate electricity which nobody uses. Solar arrays, paid for by taxpayers, likewise produce current which is unused.

Greensburg is a high-tech ghost town, as Hegeman documents in her AP piece. The movie Field of Dreams gave rise to the phrase, "build it and they will come." Sebelius built Greensburg, but nobody came.

It would be easy to blame Sebelius for all of this, but she was in some ways placed into this compromising position by over-enthusiastic and over-eager green experts, who hoped to demonstrate their high-tech prowess - and by insincere businesses who saw a way to tap into taxpayer money even if it meant selling unneeded products.

Sadly for Sebelius, this would not be the last time she was left to publicly take the blame for ill-conceived plans which squandered public money.

Leaving the governor's mansion in Kansas, she became Secretary of Health and Human Services. In this role, she would be put forth to take responsibility for other people's failures - to take responsibility for Obamacare, and further for the failed Obamacare website.

The text of the Obamacare legislation was composed by many hands, of which hers was among the least. The Obamacare website was subcontracted out to the administration's cronies, with little regard as to whether they were competent to design and construct the site.

Obamacare was the product of naive idealism, of incompetence, and of cynical opportunism. Sebelius, who was responsible for little of this, was made to be one of the public faces for a taxpayer-funded debacle. Politics have not been kind to her. She has become a scapegoat for the failure of other policymakers.