The Blame Game: Running The Board

By Greg O?BrienCodfish PressSo many fingers, too little time. When President Bush on Tuesday, two weeks after the sorry fact, acknowledged responsibility for any lapses in the federal government response to Hurricane Katrina and implied that he was not certain the nation was prepared for another storm of this scale or a terrorist attack, the ?Blame Game? shifted to a new dimension?the search for political survivors. As local, state and federal officials?Republicans and Democrats?scrambled to run the board, the body count in this grim search, unlike the hurricane itself, was expected to exceed original estimates.?I want to know how to better cooperate with the state and local government,? Bush told a reporter in response to a question about whether Americans should be concerned about the government?s ability to respond to another catastrophic storm or a terrorist attack. ?Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm? And that?s an important question.? The disturbing answer is: when it comes to execution?with few exceptions, New York among them?local, state and federal governments don?t have a clue, even four years after Bush in the wake of the 9/11 attacks vowed ?to face domestic threats as a unified seamless force,? as the New York Times puts it. The wholesale failures of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and their staffs are as stunning as the botched Federal Emergency Management Agency and Homeland (In)Security response, making the fiasco one of the worst breakdowns in communications in modern U.S. history, a collapse that cost hundreds of lives.While politicians race to cover their respective derrieres, gleeful Democrats fan the fires of discontent, Republicans denounce the media for its pointed questions (or as Al Haig might wonder: Who?s in charge here?), playing the ?blame game,? as Bush so artfully calls it to deflect criticism, is as fundamental in the distressing aftermath of Katrina as patching the porous levees. Until we know the basic who, when, where, what, why and how of this failed response, we can?t fix it. And if we can?t fix it?as local television outlets like to report in coverage of disasters?it could happen here! The crisis has obvious international implications, as well. ?If America becomes so unglued when bad things happen in its own backyard, how can it fulfill its role as leader of the world?? asked The Strait Times of Singapore, quoted in a Thomas Friedman column.Now that the Bush Administration is back from vacation (Vice President Dick Cheney lingered on vacation 72 hours after Katrina began rearranging the Gulf Coast, defending his sabbatical later to a reporter, ?I came back four days early!?), the Blame Game ought to play itself out to a new, bold directive from the White House: States? Rights aside, if a state cannot protect the welfare and public safety of its citizens, the federal government?no questions asked?will step in before calamity strikes to assure this protection. States take over failing municipal governments and school systems all the time. No reason the federal government can?t do it.While the concept may be anathema to most conservatives, our security may depend on Bush?s willingness to act on this.

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