Time flies when you’re having fun, they say. I’ve found that it flies whether you are having fun or not. Seems like just yesterday New Orleans was getting hammered by Hurricane Katrina, and FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, under Director Michael “Brownie” Brown, was doing a colossally bad job of handling the aftermath.
As you may recall, before being named to head FEMA Brownie was the troubled commissioner of an Arabian horse organization. So how did he get to be director of FEMA? It’s kind of a funny story, really. Brownie’s old college roommate, Joe Allbaugh, was Bush’s campaign manager in 2000. When Bush was appointed president, he appointed Allbaugh to head FEMA. I guess Bush didn’t realize that usually when a president wants to reward an old friend he makes them ambassador to some country with nice weather, not put them in charge of FEMA.
Allbaugh hired his college buddy, Brownie, as his legal counsel. Two years later, when Allbaugh left FEMA, Brownie was named director. From commissioner of a horse association to director of the federal agency tasked with dealing with national disasters in two easy steps. America, what a country!
In spite of President Bush’s expressed confidence in him during the Katrina cleanup (“You’re doing a heck of a job, Brownie” he said) Brown was canned. The evidence that he was doing a miserable job was overwhelming. But he was retained on the payroll ($148,000 per year) for a couple months to offer his insights as to what went wrong. Sort of a little “thank-you” I guess.
Brownie was a failure as the head of FEMA, but according to news reports he is now planning on returning to Colorado, where he lived during his days as horse association commissioner, and starting an emergency preparedness consulting business. He plans to offer his advice to officials who might find themselves in a position similar to the one he faced post-Katrina. According to one news report, “Brown said officials need to be able to answer questions about a disaster to avoid appearing to not know how serious a situation is.” A national disaster is one thing, but appearing incompetent is a tragedy that should be avoided at all costs.
Considering the qualifications he had to be appointed as director of FEMA, I guess I can see how he might think a couple months explaining how he screwed up the Katrina response so badly might make him qualified to give advice to others. I recall seeing a little of the grilling a Congressional committee gave him post-Katrina. I guess Brownie is the kind of guy that would consider that another good learning experience, not to mention a nice addition to his résumé.
It was George Bush himself (or, more likely, one of his speech writers) who coined the phrase “soft bigotry of low expectations.” He first used it in his 2000 presidential campaign, usually before black audiences. He was telling them that they were being held back because others didn’t expect much of them. Brownie is a fine example that, in the Bush administration anyway, low expectations need not be a hindrance to a lucrative career. In fact it might be a big plus.
Perhaps that is what Bush was thinking when he nominated Harriet Meyers to the Supreme Court. He just doesn’t seem to understand in the real world, qualifications matter.
But it is understandable why he might be confused on this matter. Remember the presidential debates, against both Gore and Kerry? Both opponents ran circles around him, but Bush “won” because he didn’t do as badly as everyone expected him to do. He won the presidential election in 2004 with the lowest margin of any incumbent before him—and afterwards crowed about his “mandate.” Maybe he didn’t expect he would do even that good. (I know I didn’t!)
It has been said of George Bush that he was born on third base, but thinks he hit a triple. I wonder how many on his team feel the same way.