(And Other Indoor Sports)
Nobody likes a tattletale. Or a whiner. Or a nag. Or a bearer of bad news. Or the guy who says, "I told you so." (OK, some people do) Why? My feeling is that people don't like to hear the Truth. People don't want to confront difficult questions about themselves. Not that everybody who nags or whines or points fingers is right. But hearing harsh criticism can force people to re-examine themselves and the beliefs they hold to be fact. And nobody likes to be wrong. Most people, in fact, like to be wrong so little that they never waver from their original beliefs no matter the evidence to the contrary. And it's enough people that Americans take it for granted that stubbornness and mulishness is a virtue. In 2004, one of GW's favorite words was "steadfast". In fact, when I typed in "Bush" and "steadfast" into Altavista, it returned 1.14 million results. (Of course, it turns out that when you type "Bush" and "idiot" you get 8 million results, so what the hell do I know?)
Whatever. My point is that Americans passionately hate what Bush has so eloquently named, "The Blame Game". (Well, I guess that's not exactly true either, since I didn't hear very many Republican complaints over the past 15 years while Rush Limbaugh & Co. have blamed Clinton for everything from the recession to 9/11 to Natalee Holloway) And this administration has done an excellent job of playing on that sentiment to keep his head above the political waters. Remember in May when Donald Rumsfeld took "full responsibility" for Abu Ghraib prison torture? By full responsibility did he mean scot free? Bush has successfully kept people from wondering why 1800 American soldiers are dead in Iraq, why Bin Laden is still running around sending audio tapes to reporters, why all the dividend and estate tax cuts haven't produced a boom economy. Now the house of cards is coming down around him. And though I'm not particularly unhappy about that, it's fair to ask if it's right to point the finger at him.
One of the Right's favorite tools is the straw man. What this means, generally, is that they will either misrepresent what their opponent is saying and attack them for that, or they will find the vilest supporter of their opponent and pretend they are the same. For example, in 2004, instead of attacking Kerry or lauding Bush, the Right wing media attacked Michael Moore, an easy target. "Michael Moore is a fat slob and he hates Bush. If you hate Bush, you're a fat slob too." Stupid stuff like that. They're actually really good at it and are most of the time are a whole lot subtler than that. So now, in the middle of the mother of all screwups (MOAS), the Right has jumped to attack position. The three pronged attack includes 1) Telling people not to play the "blame game", 2) Assigning blame to local (read: Democratic) authorities, and 3) Setting up a straw man, telling Americans that the Moonbats (read: Dems) are "blaming Bush for Katrina". Since the hurricane is obviously not the man's fault, obviously Bush is blameless, right? Of course, nobody on the left (except for the actual moonbats, but this author is slandering politicians and respected columnists) blames GW for the hurricane. But does he deserve blame for the aftermath?
First, it didn't help that Bush cut funding for levee projects to help pay for Iraq and his tax cuts. New Orleans had to beg for $2 million of promised federal money to finish one project in 2004. Not $100 billion like we're looking at today, but $2 million. Now, there's no guarantee that any of this work would have prevented this disaster. The levees were rated for a category 3 storm, not a category 4. However, like the expiration date on milk, it's not an exact science. All I'm saying is, it didn't help to cut levee protection funding. And for those of you who don't think it's the federal government's job to protect New Orleans, keep in mind that one of the primary reasons the city is in this much trouble is because the Army Corp of Engineers has spent the last 100 years flushing silt that should have been building up storm-surge-protecting wetlands down into the Gulf of Mexico, over the continental shelf. (Where it will turn into oil in 100 million years) And why do they do this? So national commerce flowing down the Mississippi can flow. If anything fell under the Commerce Clause, this is it.
Second, it didn't help that Bush has elevated cronyism to a fine art. He's not the first President to appoint his friends and donors to important positions and he won't be the last. But it's still a stupid thing to do and this time it came to bit America in the ass. We all know that Michael Brown, the ex-FEMA head, had no business running our national disaster recovery agency. He was completely unqualified, but luckily for him he was college roommates with Joe Allbaugh, the former FEMA head. Joe was Bush's chief of staff in Texas and his 2000 campaign manager, so we're probably lucky a major hurricane didn't hit between 2001 and 2003. Now Allbaugh is a lobbyist for Halliburton, where he lobbies FEMA for contracts. How many other vital organizations are headed by political cronies? (Note to wingnuts: just because someone else did it in the past doesn't make it right)
Third, at a time when the nation needed to be reassured that the crisis was being handled, Bush was on vacation. I know he probably works very, very hard and deserves more vacation than any other president ever. But he should know better than anyone that the most important place for him to have been was in front of the American public reassuring them. That's what boosted him from an approval rating of under 50% in August 2001 to 90% by September 2001. (Despite the fact that even during the World Trade Center attacks, his advisors had to force him to stop reading to children so he could address the nation) It certainly didn't help that it took him three days to even look at the disaster area, while the press widely reported that he "cut his vacation short" by two days out of the 30-day vacation. When Justice Rehnquist died, Bush was on the scene immediately. So much of this nation's strength comes from it's confidence. Americans lost confidence after Bush dropped the ball.
Fourth, it didn't help that Bush is allergic to environmental protection. If Louisiana had more wetlands, perhaps the storm surge wouldn't have been strong enough to topple the levees. If we weren't so dependent on oil, perhaps the damage to the oil pipelines and refineries wouldn't be sending the economy into a tailspin. And if we weren't pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, perhaps we could mitigate the more destructive storms that global warming is certain to produce. Now, of course Bush isn't directly responsible for any of these things. But his actions don't help. Opposing higher fuel standards didn't help. Opposing Kyoto didn't help.
Fifth, Bush said he deserved blame. "I take responsibility," he said. Being the skeptic I am, I don't really believe those words mean anything. Apparently, the Right agrees with me, because instead of hold Bush responsible, they argue that he was not. They make fun of anyone who does point the finger, and in many cases, attacks them personally. Responsibility isn't just a pretty word. It means bearing the consequences. Taking responsibility for a disaster means admitting failure of sorts. If my kid robs a bank and I say, "I take full responsibility," I don't get a slap on the back and be told I'm a stand-up guy. I'm expected to pay back the money and take a punishment. Treat GW Bush like the adult he pretends to be.
There's so much to write about this story, which ironically makes it more difficult to do so well. As far as the destruction goes, I don't hold Bush personally responsible. That's silly, and it's the kind of weak argument that Republican attack dogs love. I do think that Bush has been extraordinarily unhelpful towards efforts to prevent and recover from this disaster. The very best you could say is that Bush has had no effect on this situation. And that would be generous. But the President of the United States must do more than be ineffective. We didn't hire him to clear brush or look pretty on TV. We hired him to lead the country. I do blame him for not doing that.