blame vs accountability, or how rove can win the game

Been hearing a lot about the “Blame Game” rhetoric spewing out of the government right now and it’s got me thinking.


1. Liable to being called to account; answerable. See Synonyms at responsible.
2. That can be explained: an accountable phenomenon.

[Middle English, from Old French acont, from aconter, to reckon : a-, to (from Latin ad-. See ad-) + cunter, to count (from Latin computre, to sum up. See compute).]

tr.v. blamed, blam·ing, blames

1. To hold responsible.
2. To find fault with; censure.
3. To place responsibility for (something): blamed the crisis on poor planning.
1. The state of being responsible for a fault or error; culpability.
2. Censure; condemnation.

to blame

1. Deserving censure; at fault.
2. Being the cause or source of something: A freak storm was to blame for the power outage.

[Middle English blamen, from Old French blasmer, blamer, from Vulgar Latin *blastmre, alteration of Late Latin blasphmre, to reproach. See blaspheme.]

Now here’s the interesting thing. If you look at these definitions, accountability is strictly a subset of blame. That is to say, blame contains all of accountability‘s meaning, with additional meaning. What’s blame‘s additional meaning? Censure. No wonder the admin is spinning this one. Who wants to be seen engaging in negative stuff in the middle of a disaster like this?

But accountability is neutral. Accountability means finding out what happened with the goal of changing and improving things so that it does not happen again. (As an aside, I find it fascinating that blame’s etymology comes from blaspheme which in a way is just wonderfully ironic in this entire context).

Now I’ve been reading articles in several places that are essentially saying “the reaction to Katrina has split the nation on partisan lines and everyone’s engaged in the ‘blame game’.” But what’s interesting about these analyses is that Katarina has not done this. Not everyone is playing a ‘blame game’. Many people are, rightfully, demanding accountability. But the Bush administration does not want this.

So what they have been trying to do is present the hurricane aftermath as dividing the country along partisan lines, simply by declaring over and over that that’s what’s happening. Now, they’ve said this enough to make it stick, so the media and the outraged have only won a Pyrrhic victory as long as the ‘blame game’ label is used to define the discourse.

It’s imperative that this distinction between accountability and blame be clearly made, and it’s imperative that the media and others refuse to let the Bush administration (read: most probably Rove) define the parameters of the discussion. Because as long as the discourse is confined in this definition, even if the administration looks pretty damn bad, they’re still winning because they’re still defining the argument.

In reality, we’re being outraged and incensed within the government defined boundaries. As long as this is the case, Katrina will not be a major tipping point. At most it will only slightly constrict Bush’s ability to maneuver politically.

We saw the same thing last year in the presidential campaigns. Even though he came across worse than Kerry, the fact that Kerry was only talking within the boundaries of discourse that Bush had laid out (reacting over and over again to Bush’s and the administration’s charges), Kerry wound up appearing as a wimp only able to answer Bush’s accusations, incapable of carrying the issues beyond Bush’s circumscription. Notice that the appearance is all that’s necessary: Kerry did actually try to spend time discussing what he thought was important and what he wanted to accomplish.

This is typical of this administration (Rove) and it’s brilliant. The other delightful thing this administration does is to accuse others of doing x when they themselves are doing exactly that. Intimating that everyone else is to blame is a good example.

Now, in a sense, the main thing that needs to happen for a tipping point to occur is not for the Democrats to break ranks, because that’s basically expected. But if significant numbers of Republicans do so, that could become another issue entirely. And in this respect, Colin Powell’s statements are of great interest. Others have also weighed in, such as Scarborough.

But at the moment if you look at the reaction to Katrina as a chess game of the admin against everyone else, even though everyone else is red and black didn’t bother to make any moves for the first few turns, the admin’s doing a good job of turning the tables.

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