December 20, 2005
Enough. Let's Try 'Accountability.'
You may not know it, but we are living in the Responsibility Era.
So said George Bush back in 2000 when he accepted the Republican
presidential nomination. He vowed that he would be the Responsibility
President and, it seems, repeat the word over and over until it
lost all meaning. That one speech, forgettable but retrievable,
contained the following line: ``And to lead this nation to a responsibility
era, a president himself must be responsible.'' Churchill, rest
In his Sunday
night speech to the nation, Bush once again ran up this tattered
rhetorical banner: ``I am responsible for the decision to go into
Iraq.'' It was the exact same phrase Bush had used earlier in
the week at his Woodrow Wilson Center speech. That one prompted
Jay Leno to an outburst of wisdom: ``Yeah, well, I don't think
he has to worry about other people trying to take credit for that
word ``responsible,'' in all its permutations and declensions,
made an occasional appearance in the president's rhetoric, it
would not be worth a comment. But it is a theme, a beat, a tick,
a flat-footed verbal tautology and a way, really, of deflecting
apt criticism. Listen to your president:
responsibility,'' he said Sept. 13 about the botched Hurricane
Katrina relief effort. ``I take personal responsibility for everything
I say, of course,'' he said back in 2003. ``I also take responsibility
for making decisions on war and peace.''
responsibility for putting our troops into action,'' he said a
bit earlier in 2003. ``I take responsibility for making that decision.''
of the obvious is a bit of clumsy rhetorical strutting, but also
a way of ducking the ultimate in responsibility: accountability.
This is something Bush will not accept or countenance. He will
not be trammeled or constrained or answer to any person. He will,
as we recently learned, not give a fig for the law as passed by
Congress when it comes to restrictions on domestic spying. He
asserts, but does not show, that asking for a warrant from the
special intelligence court would endanger the country and -- his
idea of a jolly-good debating point -- shows irritation when pressed.
He's the president, damnit. Look it up.
It was the
same with the intelligence failure that was Bush's prime justification
for the war. The president asserts repeatedly that he's responsible
for that -- but so is Congress. It saw the same intelligence.
But it is the president who runs the spy agencies, not Congress,
and it is he who ought to be accountable for their dismal performance.
Does this occur to him? Does he ask if he was being told what
he wanted to hear? Does he wonder about his aides? Are they a
claque of yes-men and (hello, Condi) women? It's ridiculous to
say Congress is equally responsible for being duped by bad intelligence.
The intelligence, after all, was the president's. He should be
of responsibility without accountability applies in spades to
Bush's personnel policies -- or lack of them. If the president
were truly responsible, then he would fire the bunglers. By failing
to do so, the president shows that he has not closely examined
what went wrong. He works with the same team of happy incompetents
who failed him once (bad intelligence), then again (going to war),
then again (the administration of it) and then again (postwar
reconstruction). A responsible leader would get some people around
him with the guts to challenge him. This is a White House of the
the ``responsibility president'' would understand that his crew
has lost all credibility. He cannot expect a nation, and in particular
its military, to accept the assurances of people who will be mocked
by history or to have faith in leaders whose failures are sadly
obvious in the only ledger that really matters -- the body count
in Iraq. For instance, just the other day in Iraq, Vice President
Cheney said the country had ``turned the corner.'' Who believes
him? He may be right, but by now if Cheney told me that Christmas
will fall on the Dec. 25th, I'd doubt him. The man has been wrong,
wrong, wrong -- and still he is the president's primary adviser.
He should be relegated to state funerals and demagogic speeches
to slow learners in the Republican Party.
wants us to believe that he truly accepts responsibility for what
has happened in Iraq, then he has to act responsibly himself:
End the Responsibility Era. Start the Accountability one.
2005, Washington Post Writers Group