Screw up but don't own up

By Molly Ivins Published:

By Molly Ivins

AUSTIN, Texas -- Several great minds were asked to help think up interview questions for George W. Bush. I liked, Are you the worst president since James Buchanan, or have you never heard of him?

Sorry about the snarkiness quotient, but is there anything these folks cant screw up -- and then refuse to own up to? Iraq is the most difficult to judge because its so far away. I can find no indication -- from hours of electricity available to amount of oil being pumped to number of dead people -- that hints at any improvement.

On the other hand, even though I dont think its my job, I cant prove that pulling out wont make things worse. Judging the good news-bad news volume from Iraq took such an exceptional lurch to ludicrous, its now difficult to even try to judge it with a straight face.

(For those of you who missed it: The Pentagon is now investigating itself to find out why it was paying American soldiers to write phony stories about how well things are going in Iraq and then paying a politically connected Republican public relations firm to in turn bribe Iraqi news outlets to run the phony stories. Presumably, this fooled a lot of Iraqis.)

In matters closer to home, however, it is not that hard to miss total disaster when you see it. The Medicare prescription drug benefit comes to mind. As governmental screw-ups go, it ranks up there with Katrina, which in turn is the latest in a parade of fiascoes inspiring the administration to an impressive level of dishonesty.

Following its usual m.o., the administrations first step on Katrina was to clam up on all the information possible about how the government handled it. Why should a congressional committee have any right to question the Bush administration? Whom do they think they represent?

I couldnt even bring myself to snicker at poor Joe Lieberman, chair of the committee trying to find out what went wrong, as he forlornly announced a near total lack of cooperation. Despite his record as a Bush toady, Lieberman couldnt get enough information to even start on the problem.

The committee had one interesting item -- Bush had claimed that no one anticipated New Orleans would be leveled. Turns out they not only expected it, but the Department of Homeland Security sent an urgent warning to the White House situation room, saying Katrina will likely leave the New Orleans metro area submerged for weeks or months.

Meanwhile, the White House informed Louisiana reps it would not be supporting legislation for a federally financed reconstruction program for the area, despite Bushs promise to make it the grandest reconstruction since the Marshall Plan.

Looking on the bright side, this may yet turn out to be a good thing, since a new audit of the federally financed reconstruction in Iraq indicates -- well, a great deal left to be desired. That would be counting untold billions of dollars wasted, millions left lying around in footlockers and filing cabinets, millions gambled away and -- heres a note -- three Iraqis who fell to their death in a repaired hospital elevator that had been certified as safe.

I also like the one about the contractor who got $100,000 to refurbish an Olympic-sized swimming pool (clearly a high priority in war-torn Iraq) but only polished the pumps. Well, polished pumps are nice.

Governance in this administration is like Casey Stengel with the early Mets: Doesnt anybody here know how to play this game? But lest you think I do nothing but pick on the Bushies, let me devote some loving attention to the best Congress money can buy.

Last month, in a closed-door, Republican-only conference committee meeting, a $22 billion change was inserted at the last minute. The taxpayers were supposed to get $26 billion in relief over 10 years by altering a formula for Medicare reimbursement. But lo, many insurance lobbyists for the HMOs knew about the committee meeting attended only by Republicans, who helpfully lowered the savings estimate of the formula to $4 billion and handed the other $22 billion back to the insurance industry.

We can certainly see how serious the Republicans are about reform -- we cant wait to pay, er, hear more. One sign to look for would be if they stop calling it lobby reform and call it congressional reform, instead.

2006 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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