Kathleen Parker

It is a feat of linguistic magic to deflect criticism as playing the “blame game,” and White House press secretary Scott McClellan is Katrina's David Copperfield.

To repeated questions about the delayed federal response to Hurricane Katrina during a recent press briefing, McClellan demurred by saying he wasn't going to play the blame game.

Fine. Let's call it something else. Let's call it “getting to the bottom of things,” “trying to discover the truth,” “looking for answers.” We can have a contest for a pithy title, but meanwhile, ignoring legitimate questions about national security at a time of cataclysmic disaster is playing some other kind of game.

Defenders of the Bush administration, some of whom seem pathologically unable to see mistakes no matter what the evidence, have winced at the notion that the federal government should have done more in Katrina's aftermath. (I recognize the irony of these words tumbling from my fingertips, given my support of Bush throughout the Iraq war, so please do not feel compelled to congratulate me on my belated epiphany. The levees of my e-mailbox already have been breached, and I'm sitting on the roof of my building as I type.)

 But the war is an apple and this is an orange. Or an orangutan, if you prefer. A big hairy ape of a problem that Americans have a right to wish solved. It's not so much a question of blame being posed as it is a quest for assurance in one scary world.

To his credit, President George W. Bush has accepted responsibility for the federal government's slow response as reflected in Thursday night's speech from New Orleans. His remarks promising to rebuild what Katrina had torn asunder were the tithings (at extreme public expense) of a guilt-ridden man. It was also, two weeks after Katrina, a full-blown acknowledgement that the buck stops with the presidency in a national disaster, and Bush gets points for that recognition.

By contrast, many Bush supporters have been doggedly resistant to assigning any responsibility to the feds for the suffering that followed Katrina. Their main arguments, which I embrace with qualification, are that people need to be self-sufficient, that local and state governments have first-responder responsibility in crisis, and that our welfare state is responsible for nurturing a helpless mindset among victims that doomed them to their fates.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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