Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Princess Bride gambit

Vizzini: He didn't fall! Inconceivable!
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

I know that joke is starting to get old, but it is the clearest statement of a recurring theme that has run through this administration from the beginning. Today, the word is “responsibility.”

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales just held a press conference about the exploding scandal of politicized firings of at least eight US Attorneys. Gonzales says he "accepts responsibility," even though it's not his fault, he didn't know anything about it, and that the real person behind it all was his chief of staff who just quit. How many times have members of this administration used the phrase "I accept responsibility" to mean just the opposite? They seem to think of it as a magic "Get out of Jail Free" card that absolves them of any need to face consequences--the very definition of accepting responsibility.

Actually, saying the magic words doesn't work by itself. They must be accompanied by throwing an underling to the wolves. It works best if it's someone who recently left the administration and has had critical words, but anyone will do. It's a lot like the failure of a Soviet five-year plan. Failure was never the fault of the planners at the top; failure was caused by saboteurs below. All that was necessary to accept responsibility, was to locate the disloyal underlings and publicly purge them. Once the leaders had destroyed enough lives below them, they could relax and enjoy the perks of being on top--until someone above them felt the need to accept responsibility.

This little pre-fab drama works remarkably well, but it can't be repeated indefinitely. Sooner or later, the audience grows bored and the wolves get bolder. This drama has blown up remarkably fast and shows no sign of settling down. It might be inconceivable to Bush, Rove, Cheney, and Gonzales, but their little "accepting responsibility" act might not be enough this time.

No comments: