Dept. of Responsibility

February 16th, 2006

There seems to be a bull market these days in acceptances of responsibility.
Yesterday alone there were two from the top ranks of the Bush Administration. Vice President Cheney assured Fox’s Brit Hume that, since the shotgun was in his hands, he was responsibile for shooting his friend, Harry Wittington.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told Congress and a battery of television interviewers that while he had been let down by Michael Brown of FEMA and others, he took full “official and personal” responsibility for his department’s pathetic response to Hurricaine Katrina.
Several weeks ago, President Bush acknowledged the inescapable fact that he was responsible for the entire Federal response to Katrina.
But what does it mean, in our system, to accept “full responsibility?”
Not much, apparently. With the exception of the hapless “Brownie,” the others are still in office, drawing their pay and doing a “heck of a job.”
In truth, such acceptances are empty expressions of the obvious.
They are cold comfort to the victims, whether of Katrina, Iraq or the botched Medicare prescription drug program. Unlike a parliamentary system, where the relevant official resigns after a major failure, unlike Japan, where the code of conduct has had more permanent results, in the U.S., the official accepts responsibility and moves on.
In the U.S. system, the truth only has consequences in the ballot box, and only to those who stand for re-election. Doesn’t seem often enough, does it?


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