Who's responsible for what U.S. is now?

September 18, 2005|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

APPARENTLY, Brownie wasn't doing such a good job after all.

You remember Brownie: Michael Brown, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and in that capacity, a focal point for mounting criticism of that agency's leisurely response to Hurricane Katrina. Brownie's qualifications for that job have since been revealed: He used to run horse shows and was a friend of a friend of the president. Last Friday, that president offered support for his beleaguered subordinate. "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," said George W. Bush.

By Monday, Brownie was out of work. He resigned, having evidently read the writing on the wall.

The next day, having apparently seen that same graffiti, Mr. Bush himself said, "To the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility."

I found that shocking, but that's only because I had thought Mr. Bush physically incapable of taking responsibility. Having watched him brazen his way through successive botches and bungles here and abroad with an Alfred E. Newman grin and a maddening insistence that botches and bungles were part of the master plan, I thought Mr. Bush's eyes would roll back.

So I have a question for the Bush jihadists, that shrinking but stubborn minority that still thinks Gee Dubya walks on water and calls down rain. What's it going to take to make you folks stop sending me e-mails by the dozens railing at how the great and powerful Bush is being mistreated by that darned liberal media?

It is, of course, their standard defense, akin to a child sticking index fingers in her ears and shouting "La la la la la, I can't hear you!" until you stop committing the sin of reason. In this case, the argument goes that President Bush is being blamed for failures that should be assigned to state and local officials in Louisiana and Mississippi. It's their fault, not his.

So to recap: Media say Mr. Bush bears responsibility. Much of the American public says he bears responsibility. In an unprecedented show of lucidity, Mr. Bush takes responsibility. Bush jihadists say Mr. Bush is not responsible.

Seldom has the intellectual bankruptcy, situational outrage and robotic partisanship of that stratum of the electorate been more apparent. I swear, if Mr. Bush blew up the White House, they'd praise him for creating construction jobs.

Yes, the apparent failures of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco are manifest and manifold. And people are right to criticize them. But here's why Mr. Bush gets the lion's share of attention: He's the President of the United States. And the miserable performance of the government he captains speaks not simply to our immediate concerns about Louisiana and Mississippi but potentially to our future concerns about Florida, California or some other state that comes under terrorist attack.

Would you feel secure in devastated, cut-off-from-the-outside-world Miami Beach knowing your salvation relied on some guy who got his job because he had connections?

More to the point, is incompetence so profound it causes actual death OK so long as the incompetents are of the right party, possessed of the right values? Apparently, for some of us, the answer is yes.

Never mind integrity, never mind objectivity, never mind simple enlightened self-interest.

Blue to the left, red to the right even now, even here. This is the nation we have become.

Anybody want to take responsibility for that?

Leonard Pitts Jr., is a columnist for the Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun.

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