Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Credit & blame

Last week's Time Magazine (dated 09/19/05) had an article focusing on the breakdown of government at several levels in the immediate post-Katrina environment. Under the header "The Governor: Did Kathleen Babineaux Blanco make every effort to get federal help?" comes this paragraph:

"...Further tangling the post-Katrina disaster effort was a struggle for power. On the Friday after the hurricane, as the Governor met with Bush aboard Air Force One on the tarmac of the New Orleans airport, the President broached a sensitive question: Would Blanco relinquish control of local law enforcement and the 13,268 National Guard troops from 29 states that fall under her command? State officials say Blanco considered it an odd move, given that federal control would not in itself mean any additional troops and would prohibit the guard under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 from acting as policemen. And she thought the request had a political motive. It would allow Washington to come in and claim credit for a relief operation that was finally beginning to show progress..." [emphasis added by me]
The thing about leadership is that positioning oneself to take credit also means positioning oneself to take blame. That's why the president's acknowledgment of responsibility last week for failures at the federal level was significant. It was clear there were serious problems with the federal response and he rightly took responsibility for it. But the state response was also obviously fumbled. So when the governor spoke similar words to the state legislature the day after the president spoke, it looked more like an unfortunately-timed "me too" than a comprehensive taking-of-responsibility. Any benefit that might have accrued to the governor for that belated statement of responsibility was further diluted by her later statements suggesting that her administration's biggest mistake was putting too much faith in FEMA. That's not leadership. It's avoidance of the real issues that everyone else can see but Louisiana doesn't seem to want to talk about.