I am struck by the irony of the electorate holding politicians accountable for the outcome of a natural disaster while elected officials are held unaccountable for political disasters. I suspect the main reason for this is partisan politics. For example, Republicans feel the Democrats that run Louisiana and New Orleans are respnsible for the Katrina disaster. Democrats feel that the Republicans that control the federal government are responsible.
The basis for accountability in the case of Katrina rests on clear political boundaries. It is also clear from an objective view that local, state and federal governments badly botched fulfilling their promises to keep citizens protected from all dangers and to rescue citizens from bad outcomes. Therefore, it is understandable that partisans would seek to avoid responsibility by pointing the finger at their opponents.
The awesome destruction of Katrina served to overcome the distortion of reality by partisan pundits and many people are actually demanding accountability from both Republicans and Democrats. But in the absence of rabble rousing partisan pundits, great numbers of the electorate demand no accountability from politicians. This is the case when both Republicans and Democrats bear responsibility for political disasters. In these instances, the pundits shut up and avoid the issue.
America has experienced two major political disasters in recent history - the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the Iraq War. In the case of 9/11, there were massive failures of intelligence, security and foreign policy - all political failures. Because both the Republicans and Democrats supported and provided oversight for the longstanding policies that led to 9/11, the pundit class determined that nobody could be held accountable. The public went along as there were no partisan pundits to whip them up in an emotional frenzy.
Deception and distortion was all that politicians and their pundits provided to the American people regarding 9/11. The bipartisan investigation took years to complete after all the stonewalling and foot dragging. Relevant information that wasn't censored by the 9/11 Commission in their final report was redacted by the White House. Any discussion of the policies that provoked the attacks was off the table. The CIA report on 9/11 remains top secret as it actually places blame on some individuals. The result is that most Americans have little idea of how and why 9/11 happened and there has been no accountability.
The Iraq War is another political disaster that the electorate seems unwilling to hold politicians accountable for. In this case, not only were there failures of intelligence and foreign policy, there was deception and misinformation that led to the war. Because the war with Iraq actually spans three administrations and the relationship with Saddam spans many administrations, Republicans, Democrats, and their respective pundits have been reluctant to point fingers.
The desire to hold politicians accountable does not seem to originate from deaths caused by their failures. It appears that the death toll from Katrina will be about 1,000. Nearly 1,900 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died in the Iraq War. Nearly 3,000 people died on September 11, 2001.
The financial cost of disasters also seems not to be a big factor in holding politicians accountable. The cost for taxpayers for Katrina and the Iraq War are roughly the same at about $200 billion per disaster. In each case, this represents about $675 for each man, woman, and child in America. That money is not the main factor for demands of accountability is not surprising since politicians are rarely held accountable for squandering money.
It would seem that the main motivation for the American people to demand accountability is a high level of rabble rousing by partisan pundits. Unfortunately, the opinion writers, radio hosts, and television's talking heads only want accountability from their political opponents.
Even politicians are reluctant to hold their political opponents accountable. When both major political parties are responsible, I suppose the collectivist sensibilities of the politicians leads them to blame the electorate for having voted in the first place - or maybe it is just the code of honor among thieves.
It was surprising to hear President Bush, who advocates but never practices personal responsibility, actually imply that he accepts responsibility for the natural disaster Katrina (known as Corrina to his wife) to the extent there is anything to be responsible for. Of course, Bush has redeemed himself for any errors made (to the extent that any errors may have been made) by promising to spend billions of borrowed dollars. However, he did stop short of promising to eliminate evil from New Orleans.
This article contributed by Tom Blanton of Richmond, Virginia.