“Taking Responsibility”

These days, even Dubya may be guilty of a little strategic Bush-bashing, what with this strange admission of “responsibility” for delays in the Federal response to Katrina. And it is a strange admission:

“And to the extent that the federal government didn’t fully do its job right, I take responsibility. I want to know what went right and what went wrong,” Mr. Bush said.”

Erm. Yeah. Well, he at least took responsibility for the actions of the federal government “to the extent” that they screwed up. That’s not exactly saying, “Hey, I know some things didn’t go well–and people died who might not otherwise–and I assume responsibility for that.” Not even close, really.

If the President really does feel “responsible” for the results of missteps and delays by FEMA and the rest of the federal emergency response apparatus, to whatever “extent,” then maybe he could do us a favor and just spit it out, own up. But it’s obvious that Bush is not really accepting any specific responsibility, since he still doesn’t know “what went right and what went wrong.” He’s painting himself as abstractly responsible, in a fairly hollow buck-stops-here gesture, while waiting to find out what the specific screw-ups were.

Let me be clear: I’m not certain that George W. Bush is particularly at fault in the specific failures that plagued the federal response. He could have rushed back to work, encouraged action and facilitated the mobilization of resources. I’m sure he could have smoothed the road considerably, and, as President, he probably should have do so. But the tardiness and clumsiness of the federal response suggests broader problems. The professionals don’t seem to have had their act together, and no amount of presidential cheer-leading and facilitation can make up for that. So if Bush says “I’m sorry” tonight, in hope of salvaging his dwindling approval ratings, I hope someone has the sense to ask him: “Sorry for what, Mr. President? Can you tell us what your contribution to the tragedy was?”

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.