Thursday, February 16, 2006

Accepting Responsibility Isn’t Enough

From the New York Times:

[Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff told the senators on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that Hurricane Katrina had been “one of the most difficult and traumatic experiences of my life.” He added, “I am accountable and accept responsibility.”

He acknowledged that he and his department had failed to respond adequately to the disaster, citing management lapses, improper deployment of staff and the unreliable delivery of disaster relief supplies. He said that his department had moved far too slowly to evacuate the refugees who packed the New Orleans Superdome and, later, the city’s convention center.

“The worst element of this catastrophe personally is not criticism I’ve received,” he said, “but the derision of people who did have their suffering unnecessarily prolonged because this department did not perform.”

We’ve had a lot of administration officials — from the president on down — suddenly coming up with this line about “I’m responsible” for whatever disaster they’ve rightly been charged with overseeing; everything from Iraq to shooting a guy in the face with birdshot. I suppose in this Oprahfied world where baring your soul in public is considered to be a great step forward and elicits the requisite sympathy and understanding, that’s enough. Shed a tear, jump on the couch, and hug everybody.

But in reality it just doesn’t cut it to say “my bad” and move on. An essential element of accepting responsbility is making amends and taking some sort of corrective action to insure that it doesn’t happen again. We certainly heard that from the Republicans when it was Bill Clinton confessing to his affair with Monica Lewinsky; they didn’t want to hear him just accept responsibility; they wanted him to make amends and then be pilloried, drawn and quartered on the Mall in Washington, D.C. and thrown out of office. (But that was about sex and of course sex is worse than a hurricane or a war.)

So what kind of disciplinary action will Mr. Chertoff face for his incompetence? Given the past actions of this administration, he’ll get the Medal of Freedom.