The buck stops somewhere else

Barbara Toner
Saturday September 17, 2005


Blamers crop up in the darnedest of places. You would expect world leaders of the stature of George Bush and Ricky Ponting to understand that the buck ends with them, but track their recent performances and you realise, no. It leads me to wonder whether they might both be suffering from age-related macular degeneration. Or blindness caused by smoking even after you've stopped. You'd have to be blind, wouldn't you, not to appreciate that when you take on the mantle of chief you are actually draping yourself in accountability. Yet there they were, captains of extraordinary importance, both saying, "I'm not to blame." And with the same shifty look in their eyes.

It could have been the weather. Both were faced with weather-related travesties. But I doubt it. Bush must have had the forecasts for Katrina on his desk days before she howled into New Orleans and swamped the remains of his credibility. Ponting might have made a case for it given the unlucky rain and light failure but he didn't. His beef was that no matter how many inspirational runs he scored, if other Australian players weren't on form, he was stuffed. It did nothing for his standing in our house, which is half Australian. Where was his team spirit?

Where was Bush's? He seemed to cast about for it, but, being blind, he missed it. While we were reeling from the wretched failure of his administration to send proper help to the drowning and dispossessed, even as our jaws were dragging along the ground at the Homeland Security spokesman dismissing as rumours the horror in the Superdome, the president was saying how bad he felt for everyone. He wasn't to blame but someone sure as heck was. He'd appoint himself to see who it was. Sensing the failure of this plan to charm anyone, he created a diversion by connecting the hurricane's devastation to weapons of mass destruction, which was made OK by September 11 falling just when he needed it. I don't know how it went down in Louisiana but it caused vast swaths of south-west London to wonder whether he was actually blaming the fiasco on Saddam Hussein. It wasn't until his third post-hurricane trip to New Orleans that he admitted the slackness of the federal response. "I take responsibility," he said, before adding the blame was with all levels of government, not just his. Maybe his family and friends were fooled. Not me. Not someone who had heard Ponting say only days before that failure was a team effort.

Yesterday's national day of prayer was for the Katrina victims, of whom Bush will be counting himself as one. I bet he prayed that Dick Morris, the Republican strategist, wasn't just trying to make him feel good when he told the New York Post that Katrina was just what the president needed to ensure his popularity for the rest of his tenure. I bet he sang Amazing Grace.

Ricky Ponting in some lights looks quite like the president, but he doesn't really deserve to. He was generous in defeat, even though the loss of the Ashes during his tenure must have broken his heart. His problem is that he wasn't the leader he needed to be and Shane Warne was. This was no one's fault. Warney is a natural leader with a genius grasp of the game of cricket, even if he is a goose off the field. I'm not for a minute saying England wouldn't have won the Ashes if he'd been leading the opposition, but there's no doubt a decisive captain with a clear vision would have done something about the dropped catches and no-balling instead of carping about whose fault they were.

I don't get blaming even though I have long been married to a man who sees merit in it. This is a man who has smoked a lot in his time. His eyesight is OK but his outlook on the human race can be hazy. His view is that those responsible for failure should be brought to book. Mine is that you almost never know who is responsible because so few people are prepared to put their hands up and say, "Look no further. It was me." Leaders should but they don't.

The thought that this could be put down to cowardice is awful, so we might as well put it down to smoking. Smoking is already responsible for lung cancer, small babies, stunted growth, bad breath, poor complexion, premature dying, and now age-related blindness. I hope for their sakes that Bush and Ponting once enjoyed the odd smoke. If they didn't, they should be ashamed of themselves.

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