No -- the government isn't so vast that it's ungovernable. Mr. Axelrod is wrong. In fact, he has things backwards.
Leaders inevitably convey messages that set a tone throughout an organization or bureaucracy. Consider Warren Buffett's 1991 congressional testimony as he steered Salomon Brothers during a scandal. He told the committee:
...I have also asked every Salomon employee to be his or her own compliance officer. After they first obey all rules, I then want employees to ask themselves whether they are willing to have any contemplated act appear the next day on the front page of their local paper to be read by their spouses, children and friends with the reporting done by an informed and critical reporter. If they follow this test, they need not fear my other message to them. Lose money for the firm and I will be understanding. Lose a shred of reputation for the firm and I will be ruthless.
Had such an ethical tone been set at the outset of the Obama administration, it probably wouldn't be in the messes it's now in.
Instead, just the opposite message was sent. The president's continual attacks, broadsides, and over-the-top rhetoric actually encouraged IRS agents and others to do the administration's bidding and attack its enemies. Each agent who worked against a Tea Party group or member knew down deep that he was really working for the president, that his actions would have a tacit seal of approval, a "job well done, thou good and faithful servant."
The Obama White House responded with blessings and approval... until, of course, it made for embarrassing headlines.