An era of responsibility

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.