It didn't take long for people trying to figure out what went wrong in New Orleans to start pointing fingers at the White House. In response, President Bush and his supporters have attempted to deflect blame back onto the blamers themselves. Bob reflects on the phrase "blame game" as the latest attempt at semantic alchemy by a president under siege.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. My wife Melena overheard a conversation the other day between two women at the gym. It was about Hurricane Katrina. One lady was disappointed that her New Orleans vacation plans were ruined. The other had a bigger problem. She was ashamed to be an American. Why? Because its poorest and most vulnerable were left by their government to fend for themselves in the face of catastrophe? No, because, she declared, so many people were too dependent on the government for solving all their problems. "Whatever happened to personal responsibility?" she asked. "Why is everybody so quick to play 'the blame game'"? Never one for passive eavesdropping, Melena immediately intervened to suggest a very different set of grounds for shame. Having lived in her native Serbia through a propaganda onslaught that fueled genocidal wars, she has very little patience for the denunciation of entire populations. But that wasn't all. "Garfield," Melena reported, shaken and trembling on the phone, "She said 'blame game.'" Like many a refugee of nasty regimes, Melena too well understands the perverse alchemy of endless repetition. She was creeped out because it's a phrase she's been hearing a lot.
PRESIDENT BUSH: One of the things that people want us to do here is to play a "blame game." We've got to solve problems.
BOB GARFIELD: That was President Bush on Tuesday trying to deflect questions about his administration's fatally slow response to Hurricane Katrina. The next day his spokesman, Scott McClellan, just happened to use the same construction.
SCOTT McCLELLAN: There are some that are interested in playing "the blame game." The President is interested in solving problems.
BOB GARFIELD: Now that would be quite a coincidence, if it were one. But it isn't. Fresh from being caught feeding disinformation to Newsweek and the Washington Post in an attempt to point fingers at local authorities, the White House reverted to another tried and true tactic, the buzzword. Like "flip flop" and "media filter" before, it was to be uttered and uttered until it was accepted as truth. Never mind the irony, the explicit abdication of accountability by the "accountability President." In the throes of a humanitarian crisis, the Bush Administration contends, "We have nothing to blame but blame itself." It ain't exactly "the buck stops here," but it's catchy. "Blame game" has been mouthed by, among many others, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Tennessee Republican Zach Womp, an editorialist at the Belleville, Illinois News Democrat, Boston Herald columnist Virginia Buckingham, innumerable Letters to the Editor writers and, of course, the Republican news website, gopusa. Oh, and at least one middle aged woman with a great manicure in a suburban gym. The President doesn't like the media filter, but, as he and Karl Rove certainly appreciate, you can't filter out everything.