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