September 14, 2005 by lonbud
Cry Me A River
George W. Bush, for the first time in his Presidency, accepted responsibility yesterday for the failings of the Federal government.
While not exactly striking the tone of Harry Truman’s “The Buck Stops Here” motto, Mr. Bush admitted — a full fortnight after the fact — the Federal response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina on the nation’s Gulf Coast August 29th “exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government,” and begs the question: “Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm?”
After two weeks of withering criticism, Mr. Bush seems to almost grok that, among things a President of the United States of America can do during one of the worst catastrophies of the modern era — playing golf, hawking Medicare reform, and jetting off to fundraisers (while supposedly on vacation) — well, …aren’t your best choices.
Perhaps he understands more people than he’s used to are finally paying attention; perhaps his fundamental ineptitude as a leader is hurting him in the polls.
I wonder if Mr. Bush connects the feeling he has when he goes to sleep each night with that of the proverbial frog in the slow-boiling pot.
Since first surveying Katrina’s damage from the cozy confines of Air Force One two days after she’d had her way with the The Big Easy, the President will make his fourth trip to Louisiana on Thursday. After calling FEMA chief Michael Brown back to Washington, DC this past Saturday, Mr. Bush finally “accepted his resignation” on Monday.
Tellingly, he lied when first pressed for comment on Mr. Brown’s departure, joking with the press corps, “‚ÄúMaybe you know something I don‚Äôt know. I‚Äôve been working,‚Äù during an inspection tour of damage in Gulfport, Miss.
But White House sources say Mr. Bush had already talked to the Chief of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, on the flight down, and knew Mr. Brown‚Äôs resignation was in hand. What he didn‚Äôt know was that Mr. Brown had announced it to the public.
Mr. Brown is the first official of the Bush Administration to leave in disgrace, despite several high-profile miscues one might ordinarily think would lead to the loss of high-echelon jobs, including the deliberate revelation of an under-cover CIA agent’s identity, systematic torture and human rights violations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons, the failure to produce ANY weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, along with sundry and assorted environmental and financial malfeasances.
The administration now strikes an uncharacteristically conciliatory tone to keep its reform juggernaut on the rails, sacrificing the unqualified, dissembling figurehead of an emasculated agency to preserve its quest for school vouchers and tax incentives for business, and to let the nation know the President means business when he says, “it’s in our national interest that we find out exactly what went on ‚Äî so that we can better respond” to another natural disaster or terrorist attack.
Mr. Brown certainly deserved to lose his job in the wake of the Federal government’s response to a Category 4 hurricane, but, seriously, where is Michael Chertoff’s head on a pike? Mr. Chertoff leads the Department of Homeland Security, the Bush administration’s Executive response to the defining moment of 9/11. He was the Federal official with the actual authority to extend or withold whatever resources our Federal government may have, the entity Mr. Bush himself endowed with responsibility for everything that failed to manifest in Katrina’s wake.
Tim Grieve wrote this morning in Salon’s excellent War Room,
At a press conference in April 2004, George W. Bush was asked four times whether he had made any mistakes in his presidency. Amid questions about that Aug. 6, 2001, presidential daily briefing, amid a stagnant economy and what would soon become the deadliest month to do date in Iraq, the president dodged, then dodged, then dodged again before saying: “You know, I just — I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn’t yet.”
Seventeen months later Mr. Bush is now able to produce a conditional acceptance of responsibility. He isn’t saying — and he hasn’t really said — the federal government didn’t do its job right in the aftermath of Katrina.
But if it didn’t, he’ll take responsibility.
At this point, we have only ourselves to blame if he doesn’t.