Blame Obama, blame Bush, blame someone!

I don't think that this is the Obama administration's fault. This is the way bureaucracies work or don't work.

finger.gifAh, I see. Even though it was President Barack Obama's Transportation Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security, CIA and State Department that the Christmas Day terrorist penetrated.

This interesting rationalization was offered by Washington Post op-ed columnist Ruth Marcus on ABC's
Dec. 27 "This Week" program. Such attacks on the bureaucracy aren't
often heard from those liberal precincts. It was especially ill-timed
because liberals would install government bureaucracies as the grand
viziers of the nation's entire health care system.
The Obama administration, urgently trying to sidestep blame, first claimed that the failed attempt of al-Qaida-trained
operative Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a Detroit-bound flight
was an isolated incident. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's
first reaction was to assert that the airline security system worked, a
statement guaranteed for induction into the Stupid Response Hall of
Fame, right next to President George W. Bush's "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

Obama
puzzled for three days before arriving at a better explanation. He
blamed a "systemic failure" of the nation's anti-terrorism operation.
That's closer to the truth, certainly, but notice that it's still not
his failure.

"Brownie," of course, was Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency who received Bush's accolades in the first days of the Hurricane Katrina
recovery, but then resigned as the chief scapegoat. Still, that didn't
save Bush from years of ridicule and finger-pointing. No liberals
suggested that the Katrina failures in New Orleans were the result of
bureaucracies being bureaucracies.

In the same light, Obama generally has avoided blame for a deadlier catastrophe -- the H1N1
(swine flu) pandemic. Katrina, by some estimates, directly caused some
1,500 deaths. The swine flu has taken 10,000 lives in the U.S., and
counting. Last July, the administration promised 80 million to 120
million doses of H1N1 flu vaccine by mid-October. But by the end of October, less than 17 million doses were available, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
conveniently blamed the companies making the vaccine. But blame Obama
for unrealistically promising that a tricky and complex process could
quickly turn out enough vaccine to inoculate every American.

Dodging blame isn't just a Washington convention. In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn
blamed his corrections director, Michael Randle, for the unannounced
Meritorious Good Time Push program that set free 1,700 prisoners, some
of them violent criminals, after spending only an average of 16 days in
state penitentiaries. Quinn appointed Randle and approved the program,
but by the governor's reckoning, it wasn't his "big mistake."

I'm focusing on Democrats because, well, Democrats are running things, in Chicago,
Illinois and the nation. Truth is, when it comes to dishing out blame,
both sides do it. Democrats blamed Bush for everything except sunspots.
Republicans thirst for their chance to throw as much mud at Obama as landed on Bush.

Nevertheless, Obama (but not Quinn) has a point.

The airline security breakdown indeed was "in the system," just as the
failures of the New Orleans dikes during Hurricane Katrina were a
"systemic failure" involving several administrations and Congress.
Obama cannot be held directly accountable when his State department or
intelligence agencies failed to pass along warnings about
Abdulmutallab. One man cannot possibly know about every kink within an
executive branch that has more than 4 million employees. Obama,
however, can be held accountable for not fixing systemic failures,
which he says he will do. We hope he can.

Truth is, though, some
Americans are hopelessly naïve in their expectations of what "the
system," much less a single person, can accomplish within an
institution as complex as the federal government. They are
practitioners of the Blame Someone Syndrome that requires that someone
be nailed for every conceivable misfortune under the sun. It's as
useless and adolescent as the Do Something Syndrome. When something bad
happens, the calls go out: "Do something!" Doesn't matter what it is,
something's got to be done. And when that something doesn't work, in
kicks the Blame Someone Syndrome.

So, Ruth Marcus and Obama
might be right about faulting the bureaucracy and the system. But one
can only wish for an equal level of understanding of "the system" when
the other party is in power.

This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune

Comments

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  • Let me see if I understand the "logic" that is going on inside Mr. Byrne's pointy little head. It has been 8 years and 4 months since the attacks of Sept. 11th. And for seven years and five months of that time, the job of making airline travel safer in this country was the responsibility of the Bush administration. But Byrne implies that the unsuccessful underwear bomber's attempt is due to some sort of change by the Obama administration. A roll back or scaling back of security measures, for example. Yet he offers no evidence of this, because of course there is no evidence of this.
    He mischaracterizes Napolitano's comments, which in context clearly applied to how the system worked AFTER the attempted bomber's apprehension (notification of the airline system nationwide, etc.)
    Byrne then further castigates Obama for waiting 3 whole days before issuing a statement, ignoring what happened after Richard Reid attempted to detonate identical explosives hidden in his shoes, only 3 months after the Sept. 11th attacks. Bush was on vacation, of course (as he was during a full 40% of his time in office,) and he did not issue a statement until SIX DAYS after Reid's failed attack, and that was only in response to a question by a reporter.
    It's ironic that the elephant is the symbol of Byrne's GOP, as legend has it they never forget. But, when it suits him, Byrne routinely forgets.

  • In reply to whodathunkit:

    It's not easy replying to whodathunkit when there's obviously not much thinking going on. Especially when whoda doesn't appear to have read to the bottom of the column or understood the point:

    Both Democrats and Republicans are captives of the Blame Someone Syndrome. Life isn't always as simple as those who are infected with the Syndrome. Whether it is responding to the Katrina disaster or the Christmas Day security failures, preparing for every imaginable problem is not realistic, even though those infected with the Do Something Syndrome would have it that way.

    Below is the link to Napolitan's interview with CNN. Yes, she was referring to the system having worked--after the passengers snuffed out the bomb and held Abdulmutallab captive. So, part of the system "working" is passengers having to take steps to protect themselves. I endore taking your safety into your own hands. Is passengers disarming suspected terrorists now part of the counter-terrorism handbook? Will we be issued formal instructions upon boarding about how to stop any suspicious-looking or acting (profiling) passenger?

    I imagine if Bush had made that sort of suggestion (from his ranch or the White House) he would have been called, well, pointy headed.

    Really, whoda, are you so blinded by your hatred that you can't understand when someone is saying that both sides are wrong?

    CNN link: http://www.politico.com/blogs/politicolive/1209/Napolitano_The_system_worked.html

  • You state the swine flu has taken 10,000 lives in the US and still counting.According to the World Health Origization they state as of Nov 2009 there were 4008 deaths. Where are you getting your numbers from. 10,000 vs 4008--quite a difference.

  • In reply to leehuff:

    You are correct; I should have said 10,000 lives in the world, which is the latest figure from Dr Keiji Fukuda, Special Adviser to the Director-General on Pandemic Influenza, World Health Organization, 17 December 2009. Blame my increasingly older and addled mind for looking it up and then entering the incorrect information. Thank you for the correction.

  • In reply to leehuff:

    Dennis,

    I assume you remember the strict "Captain of the Ship" rule under which we both served. Absolutely anything that happens aboard ship is the Captain's responsibility, whether or not he is physically there. I still maintain that Obama is the perfect example of the Robert Redford character in "The Candidate". After he has been nominated for President, he is going up in an elevator with his campaign manager and asks "What do we do now?" The answer, of course, should have been "Develop a blame list".

  • In reply to leehuff:

    Dennis, such an honor to see you look up from your Republican talking points long enough to respond.

    I imagine if Bush had made that sort of suggestion (from his ranch or the White House) he would have been called, well, pointy headed.

    Remember duct tape and plastic wrap, Dennis? No, not a suggestion from Bush's mouth, that is true, but from one of his hand-picked mouthpieces.

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    Chicago Tribune contributing op-ed columnist and author of forthcoming historical novel, "Madness: The War of 1812." Reporter, editor and columnist for Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News. Freelance writer and editor.

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