Beware of bird flu subterfuge

It never fails: When the government?s PR is tanking, they roll out scare tactics.

Don?t look at Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist?s insider stock trading scandal. Don?t look at House Majority Leader Tom DeLay?s mounting indictment over cheating campaign finance laws. And hey, avert your eyes from puppetmaster Karl Rove?s involvement in Plamegate. Look over here: there might be bird flu, everyone. And look over here! More potential terrorist attacks! Are you quaking in fear yet? Good.

The situation is admittedly more complicated than Bush simply reading a paperback on the 1918 flu epidemic and giving a book report press conference afterwards. Scientists have warned about the possibility of another avian flu outbreak for years, and Newsweek recently reported that at its current production rate, there would only be enough treatment for 1.5 percent of the world?s population by 2006. But it smacks of sleazy intent for Bush to skate around issues of Katrina response rates and his own administration?s failings, suddenly bringing up a topic that those in the know have been yammering about for years. Something doesn?t sound quite right here.

To push the matter further, Bush coupled his bird flu announcement with further attempts to shore up waning support in the Iraq war and the battle against terror ? a fight that he consistently mischaracterizes as if it?s a battle against a single, tangible entity.

Bird flu press conferences shouldn?t absolve Bush of accountability for his administration?s missteps, and that?s precisely what Bush is skirting right now. The failings of those around him ? especially his hand-picked government leaders ? reflect directly upon his own judgment. Shouldn?t the top know, for example, that former House majority leader DeLay refused to see lobbyists who aren?t Republican? If Bush wanted to help his image, he might want to shush his GOP compatriot when DeLay mouths off about his current indictment being ?partisan politics.?

Even if Bush wanted to play it cool and distance himself from DeLay, Frist, and Rove ? among others ? he still has to answer to FEMA and Katrina. Telling then-current FEMA director Michael Brown, ?You?re doing a heck of a job, Brownie,? when the former head of the International Arabian Horse Association had his head hidden in the sand, didn?t help to console the American public. But pay no attention to this. A lethal bird flu might kill you.

We?re glad that Bush is choosing to finally recognize the seriousness of avian flu epidemics, and thrilled that his administration has helped trim back possible terrorist threats across the world. But with a current approval rating at a CBS-reported 37 percent, he?s got a bit more to answer for than a cold.