A “heck of a job” is a complete and total screw-up.
It’s used, ironically, to show when one’s view of a situation is in contradiction to easily-observed facts.
Origin of “Heck of a Job”
The phrase comes from President George W. Bush who visited Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and told FEMA chief Michael D. Brown: “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
The comment was widely criticized for its apparent lack of sensitivity to the plight of the hurricane’s victims and for its misplaced praise of a government official who was widely seen as having failed to respond effectively to the crisis.
Brown later admitted he winced when Bush told him that:
I knew the minute he said that, the media and everybody else would see a disconnect between what he was saying and what I was witnessing on the ground. That’s the president’s style. His attitude and demeanor is always one of being a cheerleader and trying to encourage people to keep moving. It was just the wrong time and the wrong place.
Brown resigned ten days after he was praised by Bush.
In the years since, “heck of a job” has taken on a broader meaning in political discourse.
It is often used ironically or sarcastically to critique someone’s performance, particularly in situations where there is a perceived gap between the praise being given and the actual results achieved.
The phrase serves as a reminder of the importance of accurate and honest assessments in leadership, especially during times of crisis.
It’s worth noting that the phrase “heck of a job” is not exclusive to politics and can be used in any context to give a strong, often enthusiastic, endorsement of someone’s performance.
However, its use in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has given it a specific resonance in political discussions, particularly in relation to crisis management and leadership.
Use of “Heck of a Job” in a sentence:
- When the mayor congratulated the city’s sanitation department for a “heck of a job” after the snowstorm, residents, still struggling with unplowed streets, couldn’t help but recall President Bush’s infamous comment after Hurricane Katrina.
- The phrase “heck of a job” has become a cautionary tale in politics, reminding leaders to ensure their praise matches the reality on the ground, lest they face backlash like President Bush did after Hurricane Katrina.
Taegan Goddard is the creator of the Political Dictionary.
Goddard spent more than a decade on Wall Street as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he also served as a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You Won – Now What?: How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House, a political management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from both parties.
His essays on politics and public policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country.
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University.
He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.