Take My Job. Please.

By Mark Leibovich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Brownie is no longer doing a heckuva job. Or any job.

Talk about an inevitable sacrifice: It was just a matter of time before FEMA head Michael D. Brown resigned, as he did yesterday. He had come to personify the rule that once you become a joke in Washington, there is no rehab. He had became the subject of hundreds of punch lines amid the tragically unfunny spectacle of Katrina -- too many to recover from.

Last Thursday, the day before Brown was summarily posted back to Washington, Sen. Ken Salazar offered a lesson in the caricature Brown had become. Salazar, a Colorado Democrat who like many others had demanded that the Federal Emergency Management Agency chief be fired, was asked his assessment of Brown, a longtime resident of the senator's home state. After a few sentences about Brown's lack of experience in emergency management, Salazar shrugged and said simply, "Arabian horses."

This of course referred to Brown's stint as commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association. It became the functional shorthand for a background short of emergency management experience. More to the point, it became a punch line.

"Prior to heading FEMA, Brown spent the '90s as a commissioner -- this is true -- of the International Arabian Horse Association," Jon Stewart said on "The Daily Show" last week. "I guess he stands out because most Bush appointees are beholden to the Arabian people."

The equine satire went well beyond professional comics. "I'm not aware of any Arabian horses being killed in this storm," Kate Hale, a former Miami emergency management chief, told the New York Daily News last week.

And the rout was on.

"Any public figure short of the president doesn't want to become fodder for late-night television shows," says Ed Kutler, a Republican lobbyist. "When you make it past a certain point of satire, there is no return. And, unfortunately for Brown, he passed that point last week or earlier, whether deserved or not."

"This horse business" -- Andy Lester, a longtime friend of Brown's, said in an interview -- was only the start.

Brown's saga incorporated a series of perceived fumbles and unfortunate sound bites that made for a caricature.

Some of it was not his fault. When Bush, during his first visit to the Gulf Coast after Katrina, said, "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job," it embodied what many critics viewed as the administration's slow response to the disaster.

But Brown provided some ammunition himself. He was bludgeoned in a procession of TV interviews with the likes of Soledad O'Brien, Paula Zahn and, most glaringly, Ted Koppel, in which Brown said he had learned only that day of deteriorating conditions at the New Orleans Convention Center.


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