Monday, September 12, 2005

Ask Not for Whom the Buck Stops

My latest newspaper column. I didn't post a link to the paper's website this time. For some reason, they dropped a sentence out about Brown being called back to Washington. This made the rest of the paragraph make no sense whatsoever. Of course, since the column ran, "Brownie" has gone from the "guy who's doing a heck of a job" to the "guy who's looking for a job."

President Harry Truman used to have a sign on his desk that said “The Buck Stops Here.” Truman, who got his first leadership experience as an artillery commander, realized and accepted one of the burdens of leadership: if something goes wrong, it’s the guy at the top who gets the blame. It’s the same principle by which ship captains are the ones cashiered when the vessel runs aground, even if they were having coffee in the galley at the time.

Well, Harry’s dead, God rest him, and apparently so is any notion of buck-stoppage at the top. Hurricane Katrina had barely stopped its spin before Karl Rove and the White House PR machine started theirs. Message One since the devastation of Katrina became apparent is this: There’s plenty of blame to go around, but none of it goes to George Dubbya Bush.

The President finally admitted that the response after the hurricane was “not adequate.” Outside of the Washington Beltway, this is the type of statement that would lead one to respond, “no [bad word], Sherlock.” The screw-ups here are almost beyond comprehension. FEMA had to be told by a CNN reporter that people were stranded at the New Orleans Convention Center. The city of Chicago offered “hundreds of personnel, including firefighters and police, and dozens of vehicles to assist.” FEMA said “no thanks.” WalMart donated truckloads of bottled water. FEMA turned them away. None of this, however, can be traced to the guy at the top, even though it was the President who named a FEMA director whose main claim to fame had been that he was a college buddy of the old director and that he’d been the commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association. Bush is The Boss, until it’s time for accountability.

So let’s all chip in, pull together, and come up with some other slogan to put on a nameplate on Bush’s desk. How about:

  • “Wow, I Didn’t See That Coming”: On September 1, Dubbya stated on Good Morning America that “I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." This slogan is probably the odds-on favorite. After all, it’s a time-tested winner for the Bushistas. Remember the pronouncement by the Administration after 9/11 that no one could have anticipated that Osama bin Laden would stage a major terrorist attack in the U.S. (even though there was a presidential briefing paper titled “bin Laden determined to attack in U.S.”)? Fact is, people had been saying for years that even a Category Three storm would overtop the levees that hold the water out of New Orleans. They even ran a simulation last year where a fictional Category Three storm named Hurricane Pam hit, resulting in a breach of the levees. The director of the National Hurricane Center briefed President Bush and FEAM director Michael Brown about the possibility as early as Sunday afternoon, before the hurricane even made landfall, according to stories in the St. Petersburg Times and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. But hey, the President didn’t think…well, come to think of it, we might as well just leave it there.
  • “We’ll Look Into That and Get Back to You.” It’s another time-tested dodge of the Bushistas. From the Abu Ghraib torture scandal to the use of government funds to pay journalists to shill for the Administration, from the leak of the identity of a covert CIA operative for political payback to the current debacle in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, the refrain has become so familiar that we can almost sing along with it: “we're going to make sure we find out what the facts were and what went wrong.” Of course, no one ever does. On Tuesday the President indicated that there would be an investigation into what went wrong, led by…the President. Don’t you feel better now?
  • “Problem? What Problem?” FEMA is the organization to whom we’ll be turning if the terrorists really do pull of a nuclear or biological attack. And it’s looking like Michael “Brownie” Brown, the political appointee who heads up the Agency, was absolutely the wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. But not to hear Dubbya tell it. “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” he said at one of his after-the-deluge media events. This was before Brown was taken off the Katrina job entirely and sent back to Washington. Of course with this Administration’s record for rewarding spectacular failures, Brown’s probably going back because he’s on the shortlist for the Supreme Court. Perhaps the most stunning example of Republicans in denial, however, came from Dubbya’s mom, former First Lady Barbara Bush. While touring the enormous refugee camp that was once the Houston Astrodome, Babs chuckled—and I’m not exaggerating, I’ve heard it, the woman was actually chortling: “so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this, this is working very well for them.” Yeah, Babs, they’re dancing for joy.

Of course, these are just a few ideas off the top of my head. If you have ideas, send them in to this newspaper. As for me, I’m working on spreading my own slogan: “Total Republican Control: How’s That Workin’ For Ya?”

Dusty Rhoades lives, writes, and practices law in Carthage. He recognizes only one man as The Boss, and that’s Bruce Springsteen.