Playing the Blame Game

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the blame game frequently has been mentioned in the news. To those not familiar with this game, which is close to being America’s national pastime, it is worth describing its rules and purpose.

Despite the outrage of President Bush’s diehard supporters in discovering that their hero was the subject of public finger-pointing, the blame game has never been a respecter of persons, even presidential persons. Someone is always named “it,” the monkey in the middle who gets the blame. That is how the game is played.

I grant you that this seems unfair, even rude. In President Bush, according to many people, we have a leader who is as close to perfection as is humanly possible. He never makes a mistake, and even if he did, it is the fault of someone else. Thus, everything he says is true, even when it isn’t.

The point is that we should never blame him because he has great integrity. For example, he keeps his pants up in a most moral fashion, unlike you-know-who when he was in the White House. The blame game was really huge back then, and we heard nothing about the need to respect the office of the president.

To hear some tell it, Mr. Bush should never be questioned or criticized. To doubt such a leader is to be unpatriotic as well as bad mannered. According to right-thinking opinion, apparently we should all bend down and chant, “Oh Great One, thank you for being so moral!” Why didn’t this happen after Katrina?

The simple answer is that this is America, land of the free, home of the ingrates. In America, when a fellow is sitting idly around and not doing his job, especially an important and pressing job, he gets yelled at _ as any husband in this country will tell you.

The blame game is set up by just such a circumstance. It is the game’s opening whistle. If you are the defending team, the first thing you have to do is to get your man out of the middle and substitute someone else.

Indeed, the defense did an excellent job of trying to push other characters into the middle so that they could be properly blamed, such as the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans.

Everyone knows by now that these officials did not cover themselves with glory. But the blame game is a national sporting event, and the problem with this strategy is that not many of us voted for governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans. Moreover, we hold onto a quaint idea of where the buck stops.

President Bush did not help his cause when he said of his then-chief of FEMA, the horse show czar, “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.” It was a “Mission Accomplished” moment. And though one could try to blame liberal ventriloquists lurking in the bayou for this remark, the damage was done. People could look at the instant replays on TV and see that a flag on the play was appropriate.

Increasingly desperate, the defense tried other plays remarkable for their mental agility and creativity _ a fine reminder of what makes the blame game such a spectacle.

They said that all the criticism was the predictable work of Bush-haters. That’s odd. I, for one, don’t hate Bush. Why would I? He gives me such great material. Why, I am looking forward to his third term after martial law is imposed.

The Bush defenders even said that the Katrina relief was the most successful such operation in history. That seemed like a good idea until Mr. Bush turned around and admitted mistakes and took responsibility. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

Fortunately, Bush supporters don’t parse his sentences like nitpicking liberals. A perfect president can’t be guilty of an imperfection by definition. Only the Bible is to be taken literally.

For the rest of us, the blame game is coming to a happy conclusion. The president made a fine speech in New Orleans and he is now concerned about being seen to be in charge. That, of course, is the ultimate purpose of the blame game, sometimes called democracy.

(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)