Slate‘s John Dickerson is making a lot of sense in his piece on Michael Brown, the FEMA chief who has borne the brunt of the blame for the Bush administration’s slow response to Katrina. Dickerson suggests that Brown: a) probably wasn’t the head guy responsible for the mess; b) will serve as a convenient lightning rod to deflect blame away from those who were responsible; and c) probably won’t be fired, no matter how loudly the media calls for his head:
If Brown hasn’t yet packed up his “me” wall, it may be because of his political utility as a scapegoat. As a focal point of public rage, Brown remains useful to Bush as a fall guy. But can we really believe that ultimate blame for the rescue debacle resides in a man who ended his memo to Chertoff asking for assistance with a simpering plaudit: “Thank you for your consideration in helping us to meet our responsibilities.” Someone who had to write that memo wasn’t powerful enough in the first place to have caused the system to fail at the federal, state, and local levels.
Of course, Washington has seen this piñata phenomenon before: the controversial government figure who walks upright while the steady drumbeat of damaging details heralds his inevitable undoing….
What’s different in this administration is how seriously Bush ’43 takes loyalty—and how much he resents the consensus view of the permanent government in Washington. When the elites start calling for a firing, the president usually rescues his top aides and allies from the delusion and upset of public limbo. That’s why past diagnoses of terminal conditions have so often been wrong. Washington wise men have declared Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld finished many times. They were certain Dick Cheney would never be kept on the ticket in 2004. It was a widespread assumption that John Bolton would never make it to the United Nations.
Bush has often privately told those under fire that such noises from the chattering class are actually a sign that “they must be doing something right.” To send the same message in public, he takes the wounded on a stroll before the cameras.
That seems about right. Besides, Michael Brown has $51.8 billion worth of federal relief money to dole out friends, allies, and major Bush donors in the coming days. Why would the White House fire him? He’s certainly going to do a heck of a job.