Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 4, 2009

AN ERA OF RESPONSIBILITY.... The last time a cabinet secretary nomination became a humiliating debacle for a president was probably 2004, when George W. Bush insisted that Bernie Kerik was the single best person in the country to head the Department of Homeland Security. (Years later, it's still hilarious.) Once the nomination imploded, the Bush White House quickly sent out word: this is all Rudy Giuliani's fault.

Indeed, the LA Times noted today that our most recent president "famously refused to admit error, at least until his final days in the White House." President Obama prefers a different tack.

Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination as secretary of health and human services on Tuesday after weathering four days of scrutiny over unpaid taxes, prompting President Obama to concede having "screwed up" in undermining his own ethical standards by pushing the appointment.

"I've got to own up to my mistake, which is that ultimately it's important for this administration to send a message that there aren't two sets of rules," Mr. Obama said in an interview with NBC News. "You know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes."

Obama did a lot of interviews yesterday, and spent a lot of time accepting responsibility for what transpired here. He talked to Katie Couric about "self-inflicted wounds." He told Brian Williams, "Did I screw up in this situation? Absolutely. I'm willing to take my lumps." He told Anderson Cooper, "I made a mistake. I campaigned on change in Washington, bottom-up politics, and I don't want to send a message to the American people that there are two sets of standards, one for powerful people and one for ordinary folks who are working everyday and paying taxes."

Now, it's obviously true that it's better to have a president avoid mistakes, and I'm not suggesting Obama deserves praise for the Daschle breakdown. I do, however, believe it's refreshing to see a president own up to a mistake, candidly and unequivocally, telling the nation that if we're looking for someone to blame for an error, the buck stops with him.

Perhaps I'm setting the bar a little low, but I'd forgotten what it sounds like to hear a president say, "I made a mistake," without denying reality and/or blaming someone else.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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... and how incredibly absurd that the most human, decent admission seems so strange.

this also reveals the difficulty of the job of change: all those other dickwads think they are gods.

Posted by: neill on February 4, 2009 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps I'm setting the bar a little low

You're setting it way too low. His purpose for going on all these shows was to talk about the economic stimulus plan. The media wanted to talk about a complex issue that they had minimized to the point of inanity. "I screwed up" served the temporary purpose of getting to the important subject. What it didn't do was to explain why he chose Daschle in the first place, and why Daschle's human assets were worth fighting for, even knowing about the tax issues. I hope at some point he does that, but given the time restraints, he was right to prioritize the economy.

Posted by: Danp on February 4, 2009 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

The first step of learning the hard lessons is commitment to making mistakes.

What a relief having a president who still is able to learn.

More proof adults have taken over. And compared to the last eight years that bar is in stratosphere.

Posted by: Vokoban on February 4, 2009 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

The Daschle business has once again dominated the news cycle, pushing aside the economy and the need for quick action on the stimulus bill. The president admitted hhis mistake like a grownup, which is only remarkable because his predecessor never did. It is unfortunate that he squandered his network time on this trivia, instead of talking about the economy and the importance of passing a stimulus bill quickly. He could have simply said, "I made a mistake, let's move on." and refused to answer all of the other stupid questions. I think Obama should address the nation directly on the economy, but failing that, our news media simply let us down again, by focusing on Daschle. Color me disgusted.

Posted by: msmolly on February 4, 2009 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

The apology's a nice touch, but it still looks an awful lot like the party of Bush dead-enders bitch-slapped an eighty-percent-popular president and left him asking, "What the hell just happened?"

Then he went and gave them the Department of Commerce.

A banner day for Democrats, no?

Posted by: Chris on February 4, 2009 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

Now just when is a federal prosecutor going to investigate Mr Daschle. Some poor bastard working for a living would be incarcerated by now.

Posted by: EC Sedgwick on February 4, 2009 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

Ah, yes the Commerce Department - Once, there was a Senator who was against that department - said it wasn't needed. Now, he is in line to head the same. No Flip-Flopper, he, eh?

Posted by: berttheclock on February 4, 2009 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

The way this Administration is starting out, we should all get used to hearing "I made a mistake" with great regularity. Personally, I would prefer they just stop making the "mistakes."

Posted by: BillyBobSchranzberg on February 4, 2009 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

I'm impressed that Obama was out as quickly as he was taking responsibility. I don't really think the mistake was his; I still blame Daschle for blithely betraying the President's trust in not revealing his tax evasion when his name was under consdieration for HHS. Still, Obama's leadership is, once again, prominent, and it's reassuring.

It'd be more impressive if he comes out sometime in the next week or so, lambasting Senate Republicans and DINOs that are wrecking the stimulus bill. If he does that successfully, we'll know we've got a President who not only knows how cut losses, but how to change tactics to win the important battles when what he's doing isn't working. He's not in the Senate any more--he needs to drop the comity and start using the power we gave him to crush those that are in the way.

Posted by: NealB on February 4, 2009 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

I am just wondering if Obama will take any responsibility for that pork sausage of a stimulus bill or if he is going to blame it all on Nancy Pelosi? Did he really think she was a convert to "change" just because she supported his elelction?

Posted by: Mary OK on February 4, 2009 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

Obama's "confession" comes across as more unctious than 'umble. Rather like Bush "admitting" that he made a big mistake with his mission accomplished banner, which he wasn't responsible for, but took the blame for on his big shoulders. What a man! What character! Willing to admit to mistakes.

Ted Koppel once remarked on how sick he was of politicians who eagerly "took responsibility," but never resigned.

If you admit to a small indiscretion, then you can fool people on the big ones (if you don't sound phony as hell).

A trivial matter in the case of Obama "taking responsibility" for Daschle, but hardly laudatory.

Posted by: Luther on February 4, 2009 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

> I don't want to send a message to the American
> people that there are two sets of standards, one
> for powerful people and one for ordinary folks
> who are working everyday and paying taxes.


First admit the truth. There _are_ two sets of standards, one for powerful people and one for ordinary folks who are working everyday and paying taxes.

Fer catsake, he didn't go to Washington to change a misperception. He got elected to change a FACT.


Posted by: me on February 4, 2009 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK
Ted Koppel once remarked on how sick he was of politicians who eagerly "took responsibility," but never resigned.
Funny - I feel the same way about journalists, reporters, and anchors. Mind you, they're pretty good compared to others who still insist "I was fucking right" in the face of all verifiable evidence.

But still, I'm doing a disservice to this thread, failing to focus on the larger issue.
The press, for the most part, is flogging the Daschle story while failing to highlight, or in many case to even address, the nitpicking and bad faith (I'm assuming they're not actually as clueless as their public comments suggest)of the majority of the Republican Congressional delegation.

I'd also like to see a review of the tax status of Broder and the rest of the Washington press corps - reporters and editorialists.
I expect there would be a lot of mote/beam stuff.

Posted by: kenga on February 4, 2009 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Bush didn't have to say he made a mistake, because he never made any.



Posted by: Franklin on February 4, 2009 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, Obama's willingness to own his error (if we can even call it that) was being played on the morning news shows as evidence of Obama's "losing control already" and "finding out it's not as easy as he thought it would be," etc. The tone was nauseating. It reeked of Rove's playing his rivals' strength as a weakness.

Posted by: Gaia on February 4, 2009 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK



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