Here's one for the Hypocrisy Hall of Fame: At the same time the administration is putting Karl Rove's "pin-the-blame-on-the-locals" plan into effect, President Bush told reporters gathered at a cabinet meeting today, "I think that one of the things that people want us to do here is play a blame game. We've got to solve problems. We're problem solvers. There will be ample time for people to figure out what went right and what went wrong. What I'm interested in is helping save lives."
How noble. A week and thousands of lives too late... but noble. He makes it sound as if anyone interested in trying to figure out what went so horribly wrong in the aftermath of Katrina is somehow impeding the recovery. As if we can't help the victims and analyze the debacle at the same time. As if any time spent by reporters ferreting out the truth -- and by Congress overseeing -- would otherwise be spent tossing sandbags on the levee, disinfecting the Superdome, or driving evacuees to Houston.
As if those seeking answers will have blood on their hands.
That's certainly the ominous rhetorical tack being taken by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. He's all about moving forward, and not looking back (which isn't surprising given how many corpses he'd see in his personal rear-view mirror). "What would be a horrible tragedy," he said, "would be to distract ourselves from avoiding further problems because we're spending time talking about problems that have already occurred." Gee, Mr. Secretary, I thought that was called 'learning from your mistakes.'
So the White House is for time management and against "finger-pointing" -- a two-talking-points-for-the-price-of-one Chertoff scored when he asked, "What do you want to have us spend our time on now? Do we want to make sure we are feeding, sheltering, housing, and educating those who are distressed, or do we want to begin the process of finger-pointing?" Well, when you put it that way...
Also receiving the time management/finger pointing memo were White House spokesman Scott McClellan, WH communications director Dan Bartlett, and former FEMA director Joe Allbaugh:
"This is not a time for finger-pointing or playing politics," said Scotty.
"I know a lot of people right now want to point fingers and criticize, but people should keep their powder dry," said Allbaugh.
"If we focused more of our attention on decisions that have already been made, rather than those before us, there's potential for making far greater mistakes... We really don't have time to play the political game right now," echoed Bartlett.
With that kind of message discipline, how long before the media start parroting the party line? With a few brave exceptions like Jack Cafferty, the correct answer would be... right about now. "Not a great time for finger pointing is it?" asked Miles O'Brien on CNN's American Morning. "When you hear it's not the right time to point the finger, doesn't that seem reasonable?" asked anchor Carol Costello a few hours later on CNN's Daybreak.
Now, it's bad enough when the media start carrying the administration's water (especially when it's as fetid as the toxic muck still covering New Orleans), but it's much, much worse when the opposition's leaders grab a bucket and join in. "Our government failed those people in the beginning," said Bill Clinton. "And I personally believe there should be a serious analysis of it...but I don't think we should do it now. I think that in a few weeks, we should have some sort of Katrina commission. It should be bipartisan, non-partisan, whatever..." Exactly: "Whatever." As in: Who gives a crap, because it will have about the same impact as all these too-long-after-the-fact commissions have -- next to none. Who knows, maybe this time President Bush will be willing to actually testify under oath -- and without Dick Cheney. Or maybe Mike Brown will pull a Condi and let it slip about a "historical" PDB entitled "FEMA Determined to Strike Out in NO."
President Clinton's helpful assertion was quickly picked up by the President's father who used it as a cudgel against anyone trying to (if you'll pardon the expression) "point the finger" at his son: "People want to blame someone... I thought President Clinton put it pretty well today when he said, 'Let's get on with it and then there'll be plenty of time to assign blame.'"
Look, if we've learned anything from watching shows like CSI, Law & Order, and their endless progeny, it's that you can't let a crime scene grow cold. You've got to start collecting and analyzing the evidence while the DNA is still fresh and let David Caruso or Vincent D'Onofrio start sweating the perps while the passions are still running high.
And make no mistake, what we saw go down -- and not go down -- in New Orleans was definitely a crime... a crime that is in many ways still in progress. Sixty percent of the city remains underwater; up to 160,000 homes in the state of Louisiana have been submerged or destroyed; 60 to 90 million tons of solid waste need to be cleaned up; experts warn that it make take "years" to fully restore clean drinking water; and an outbreak of vibrio vulnificus -- a cholera-like bacterial disease -- has been reported among some Katrina evacuees.
This is clearly going to be a very long recovery process. And the sooner we've identified those responsible for the Katrina tragedy, the sooner we can make sure they're not around to screw up the recovery.
So, yes, now is precisely the time for assessing blame. Let a thousand pointed fingers bloom!