If Congress does nothing else this session, it should authorize a statue for Henry P. “Hank” Krakowski. Until just moments ago, he was the government’s chief of air traffic controllers, but taking responsibility for the air traffic controllers who have recently been caught sleeping on the job, he quit. This is something virtually unheard of in Washington — both taking responsibility and quitting as a result — and Krakowski should be honored for it. It is too much to expect, of course, but maybe others will follow.
I squint my eyes in a strenuous effort to recall previous resignations of this type. I know that Cyrus Vance resigned as secretary of state to protest Jimmy Carter’s effort to rescue the Iranian hostages — but that military operation was not Vance’s doing and he was not taking responsibility for it, just making his feelings clear. Aside from Vance, no one else comes to mind.
I cannot remember any resignations over the war in Iraq. Even though no weapons of mass destruction were ever found and good people died for a bad cause, not a single member of George W. Bush’s team resigned. Not only did the president himself not quit, he ran for reelection and, of course, won. He has since conducted himself as if he had not sent the nation into war by mistake and, if he had done so, it was not his fault. Of course.
The same goes for the entire team of incompetents — Donald Rumsfeld and George Tenet and that brace of military peacocks who told Bush what he wanted to hear. No one quit. No one owned up to being wrong.
Similarly, I can recall no resignations over the biggest financial crisis in American history, save the Great Depression. Just about every government agency you can name with the possible exception of NASA has some sort of oversight role — banking, real estate, mortgages, bonds, stocks, etc. — that they did not exercise. Just as with the vaunted private sector — rumored to be accountable to the market but actually accountable to no one — not one was found at fault. Everyone had a reason for not doing what they were supposed to — I mean no one’s perfect — and the economy collapsed. Isn’t that why they put erasers on pencils, or some such nonsense?
I know so little about Krakowski. He is a onetime pilot (Boeing 747s and 727s) and in his youth flew on the air-show circuit with something called the Lima Lima aerobatics flight team. The man knows how to take a risk and also the consequences of being wrong. I don’t know if he is in the least way responsible for his drowsy controllers, but he knew where the buck stopped. That makes him the rarest of Washington figure, deserving of a statue and — hey, it wouldn’t hurt — a school holiday.