The blame game has been around for a long time. Over time the blame game has evolved into an art form–mostly notably in politics. And, of all the politicians most likely to be blamed for most anything, is the president. As Harry Truman observed, the Oval Office is where the “buck stops.”
A good example, I believe, occurred during the hysteria over hurricane Katrina. The president wound up with most of the blame at the time, despite the failure of others involved in the whole mess. New Orleans had previously diverted federal funds from levee enhancement to other projects. An out-of-control mayor who could not get his people out of town when he had more than 6,000 buses sitting idle and an unconscious governor who did not mobilize first responders quickly or effectively were coupled with citizenry that failed to follow instructions. But they all blamed the president.
Sometimes such blame is well-placed but often it is manifestly unfair. The only consolation is that historians ultimately sort out the facts and the truth emerges. I remember clearly how incensed I was at President Truman when he took us into the Korean War. I had just started to get my career on track after serving in the Army Air Corps for 4 1/2 years in World War II. I was still under age 25, a member of the Air Force reserve and was told I was a prime candidate for recall as a fighter pilot. I blamed it all on HST bungling the post-war era. Luckily my number did not come up.
Time has a way of healing such emotions and recently I read David McCullough’s great book Truman and learned that I had completely misjudged the man. President Truman made many gutsy decisions while in office and was reviled at the time by many for having done so. But he stood his ground and history has vindicated him.
Putting the blame on members of Congress is another story–they never accept the blame for anything. There is a certain anonymity that goes with being only one of 535 members of the House and Senate. Any problem created is always caused by the members sitting across the “aisle,” thereby conveniently shifting the blame to others. When running for re-election in their home districts or state they typically blame the other 534 members for any mess that has occurred (and according to them, there is always a mess). No wonder their approval rating as a body stands at about 9% or 10%.
As I write this, the blame game is in full swing as we try to sort out the causes of the current financial crisis. So far, no one has come forward and said, “I did it,” nor is it likely anyone will do so. Suffice it to say, there will be plenty of finger-pointing before it is over.
Hopefully I will be around long enough for a historical perspective that will shed more light than the heat being generated today. Not that we ever learn anything from history, for my guess is that the root causes of today’s dilemma will be the same or similar to those that caused the collapse of Savings and Loans a couple of decades ago.