Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The blame game

Remember how conservatives complained ad nauseam about liberal critics of the Bush administration engaging in a "blame game" after the flooding of New Orleans?

This kind of right-wing propaganda offensive, as always, is a clear sign that they are in the process of engaging in precisely the behavior they're accusing liberals of. And sure enough, we've been hearing steadily that the fault all lies with those stupid Democratic officials.

Remember what I wrote just as the New Orleans drama was unfolding:
Whether it's the war in Iraq or the economy or race relations, whenever anyone points out any of the panoply of abject difficulties arising from their policies and agenda, conservatives just cover their ears and wish them away. They do this through one of two techniques:

-- Pretend the problems don't really exist.

-- Pretend that they're really the fault of, or emanate from, liberals.

So my jaw dropped only a little this morning as I read about former FEMA Chief Michael Brown, testifying before Congress on the Katrina disaster:
Brown in his opening statement said he had made several "specific mistakes" in dealing with the storm, and listed two.

One, he said, was not having more media briefings.

As to the other, he said: "I very strongly personally regret that I was unable to persuade Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences, and work together. I just couldn't pull that off."

No mention of that 72-hour gap between Katrina's landfall and the first arrival of federal relief efforts.

But it's comforting to note that better press conferences are now officially a superior substitute for food and water drops.

The hearing, as it happened, was run by congressional Republicans, whose questioning was clearly designed to give Brown some softballs to hit out:
Davis pushed Brown on what he and the agency he led should have done to evacuate New Orleans, restore order in the city and improve communication among law enforcement agencies.

Brown said: "Those are not FEMA roles. FEMA doesn't evacuate communities. FEMA does not do law enforcement. FEMA does not do communications."

Here's what FEMA does do, though: It provides emergency food and water. It coordinates emergency personnel, including rescue and medical workers. It oversees, coordinates, and helps facilitate such efforts as evacuation and communication when the disaster is a regional one.

Brown is trying to paint a picture of FEMA as a minor role player in disaster relief. The reality is that when a federal disaster is declared, FEMA takes charge of the scene, and every other agency defers to its directives and initiatives. But FEMA didn't show up in New Orleans until three days later. Why was that?

When Brown can answer that question, we may start getting a clearer picture of what happened in New Orleans. But first, he has to be asked.

In the meantime, his attempts to shift the blame onto state and local officials are typical of this administration. Its motto, after all, is: The Buck Stops There.

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