Paul Greenberg

There are times when the master politician has to be a master illusionist. And there are too many times when he doesn't fool anybody, perhaps not even himself, and some little Toto reveals the Great and Powerful Oz as just another little man behind the curtain. And the illusion can no longer fool even the long illusioned. Despite a beautiful stage setting like the Rose Garden at the White House, the perfect if artificial lighting, and the usual supporting cast of intellectual munchkins in the merry old land of Washington, singing, dancing, prancing and applauding all around. For no matter how many times the Wizard waves his wand over his Signature Accomplishment, it gets harder and harder to distinguish it from his signature failure. Or wave away the failures still to come -- even as those of the past are decked out in new costumes and billed as glorious successes.

But the show must go on, as it did last week when the chief executive and ringmaster of this star-studded production bid a long overdue adieu to his loyal servant and scapegoat, the Hon. Kathleen Sebelius, now happily former secretary of Health and Human Services, before swinging around to welcome her successor, the lucky bureaucrat who now inherits this royal and continuing mess.

But one of the qualifications for the job of Great and Powerful Oz is to put the best face on even the worst of debacles, which the equally Hon. Barack Obama did -- in his by now practiced and ever sonorous way. And so this RMS Titanic of federal bureaucracies sails on, crashing into icebergs every Tuesday and Thursday, changing course with every collision but to no clear avail.

This is the kind of continuing collapse an experienced illusionist will know how to deny no matter how many firewalls on this ship collapse or interior compartments fill with bilge. So last Friday our president, looking straight at the TV camera and an increasingly skeptical nation, hailed the wonders Ms. Sebelius had performed with Obamacare: "Under Kathleen's leadership, her team at HHS turned the corner, got it fixed, got the job done." Mission Accomplished!

Don't believe it? Why, said the president, "the final score speaks for itself," which must have been a vague reference to the 7.5 million people signed up for his Signature Debacle at last announcement. What a shiny, splendid, glittering number!

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.