So it's finally happening: accountability. At long last, a prominent public figure is being punished for serial reckless behavior and the willful denial of its consequences.
Unfortunately, the public figure in question is Paris Hilton, not George W. Bush.
The two have more in common than a privileged background and a reputation for dimwitted pronouncements.
When called to task for continuing to drive after her license was suspended in an alcohol-related reckless driving case, Paris blamed her handlers: "I just sign what people tell me to sign. I'm a very busy person."
When Bush was called to task for invading Iraq under false pretenses, he blamed George Tenet. Those 16 words in his State of the Union speech? He just read what people told him to read.
After being spanked by a Los Angeles judge and sentenced to 45 days in jail, Paris "took responsibility" by firing her longtime publicist, Elliot Mintz. After being spanked by the American people in November, Bush "took responsibility" by firing his longtime Pentagonist, Don Rumsfeld.
And both remain firmly in the grip of denial. "I don't know what happened," said Paris after being sentenced. "I follow the law."
For his part, "Commander Guy" Bush marked the fourth anniversary of his "Mission Accomplished" speech by claiming that the results of the 2006 election gave him a mandate to follow his surge strategy. Hmm... so when that police officer made Paris sign a document acknowledging that she wasn't supposed to drive, that was a mandate to drive around with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent and make illegal left turns, right?
The good news is that, for better or worse, Paris has always been a trend setter (without her, we never would have had the Kim Kardashian sex tape or Britney flashing her privates in public). Maybe her high-profile punishment will lead to more high-profile accountability. Starting with Alberto Gonzales, who continues to run the Justice Department despite his inability to remember important meetings he attended and orders he gave. "I'm a very busy person." (Quick Quiz: who said "From now on I'm going to pay complete attention to everything," Paris to the judge, or Gonzales to Congress? Answer: Paris. Gonzales vowed: "I am dedicated to correcting both the management missteps and the ensuing public confusion that now surrounds what should have been a benign situation.")
Then there is Paul Wolfowitz, who is still refusing to clean out his desk at the World Bank despite being found guilty of a conflict of interest by a World Bank committee -- and despite demonstrating a diligence about his girlfriend's post-World Bank arrangements that he failed to show for America's post-invasion arrangements in Iraq. "I just sign what people tell me to sign."
In an interesting development, Steve Clemons reports chatter that Wolfowitz is negotiating an exit deal but is dragging his feet because if he hangs on until June 1, he'll become eligible for an estimated $400,000 bonus. That would actually be more of an accounting moment than an accountability moment. It's not exactly 45 days in Century Regional Detention Center in Lynwood, California (aka the Slammer Hilton), but given how low the accountability bar has been set by this administration, it would at least qualify as some sort of comeuppance.
Paris Hilton drove while drunk, was given every opportunity to correct course, and is now being punished for her recklessness.
George Bush, while dry drunk, drove our country into a disastrous war, has been given every opportunity to correct course, but seems determined to keep his foot on the pedal. Will his accountability moment come only after we have careened over the edge of the cliff? And even then will he continue to point the finger at Tenet and the intelligence community, claiming as he plummets: "I don't know what happened. I did what they said."?