In his op-ed piece (Sept. 18), Dan K. Thomasson labels President Bush's "decision to accept responsibility" for the federal government's shortcomings in dealing with Hurricane Katrina "refreshingly welcome, if somewhat overdue" and as an act through which Bush took "the burden on his own shoulders." Hold on there, Mr. Thomasson. The "ritualistic assumption of responsibility" by chief executives is a method of passing blame on to others that has been written about by political scientists for over 40 years.
In his 1964 book, "The Symbolic Uses of Politics," political scientist Murray Edelman wrote that leaders such as presidents are expected to appear willing or even eager "to take personal responsibility for the acts, and especially the mistakes, of subordinates." Such action produces "a warm glow of satisfaction and relief that responsibility has been assumed and can be pinpointed." However, it is never intended that a chief executive will actually be punished for mistakes made by subordinates.
The ritualistic assumption of responsibility is an old shopworn trick that has worked many times, and judging from Thomasson's comments, its future will be as bright as its past has been.