‘Anything I Need to Tweak?’

My brother John points out the latest chapter in the saga of former FEMA chief Michael “Superdome” Brown. A Louisiana congressman has released some of Brown’s emails (obtained from the Department of Homeland Security) written during the Hurricane Katrina crisis. Brown’s Bartlett’s-worthy response to a dispatch from a deputy in New Orleans who reported the situation was “past critical”:

“Anything specific I need to do or tweak?”

That could be the motto for the entire Bush administration, from 9/11 to Iraq to this thing. I remember talking to Dad before all this Katrina stuff happened about the pure incompetence of these people. They are simply bad at what they do. They are bumblers. Their behavior isn’t grounded in actions-consequences reality (think back to Ron Susskind’s New York Times Magazine piece from last fall and the unnamed administration guy who dismissed “the reality-based community”). They mistake the competence to accomplish discrete tasks — “the CIA can generate intelligence reports” or “the Marines can kick Saddam’s ass” — for a magic wand that will allow them to accomplish whatever they’ve dreamed up. All they need to do is think up a project — “Let’s build a new house!” — invoke some high-sounding principles — “I want it to look like the Taj Mahal!” — then sketch the thing on a napkin and tell the guys with the shovels, cement mixers and hammers to make it happen. What a big surprise that they wind up with a swampy hole in the ground and a half-built foundation with rebar sticking out at crazy angles.

But these folks are optimists: Everyone’s invited to the house warming. And they’re hard working. Just like the emails say: “Even the president has his sleeves rolled up, to just below the elbow.”

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