The blame game

THE BLAME GAME…. The Washington Post has an odd front-page piece today, rebuking President Obama for reminding audiences that the problems he inherited are, well, problems he inherited.

In his inaugural address, President Obama proclaimed “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

It hasn’t taken long for the recriminations to return — or for the Obama administration to begin talking about the unwelcome “inheritance” of its predecessor.

Over the past month, Obama has reminded the public at every turn that he is facing problems “inherited” from the Bush administration, using increasingly bracing language to describe the challenges his administration is up against. The “deepening economic crisis” that the president described six days after taking office became “a big mess” in remarks this month to graduating police cadets in Columbus, Ohio.

“By any measure,” he said during a March 4 event calling for government-contracting reform, “my administration has inherited a fiscal disaster.”

Obama’s more frequent and acid reminders that former president George W. Bush left behind a trillion-dollar budget deficit, a 14-month recession and a broken financial system have come at the same time Republicans have ramped up criticism that the current president’s policies are compounding the nation’s economic problems.

The problem, if I’m reading the article right, isn’t that the president is saying anything untrue. Rather, we’re dealing with a dynamic in which one president hands off a catastrophe — several catastrophes, actually — to a successor, and the successor isn’t supposed to talk about it.

Indeed, the Post‘s Scott Wilson seems to think the president has exceeded political norms by pointing to the almost-comical mess Bush left on Obama’s desk. Wilson chides Obama for using “acid” reminders, offering “partisan” defenses, sounding “petty.” To highlight his point, Wilson pointed to the president saying recently that “we’ve inherited a terrible mess.”

That doesn’t sound especially “acid,” “partisan,” or “petty” to me, but your mileage may vary.

The criticism is misplaced here. The typical presidential speech lately starts by acknowledging a problem, followed by some talk about how the problem was created, followed by a description of what he’d like to do about it. If Obama reminds audiences that the disaster(s) he inherited aren’t his fault, and that’s all he did — dwell on the past, fail to present solutions — it would be a problem.

But that’s clearly not the case. Bush left Obama to clean up an economic crisis, an abysmal job market, a budget mess, a failing financial industry, a collapsing U.S. auto industry, global warming, an absurd health care system, an equally absurd energy framework, and two costly wars. Reminding Americans of where we’ve come from and where we’re going doesn’t seem unreasonable.

The point of articles like these seems to be freeing Bush of accountability and responsibility for his devastating failures. Here’s hoping the White House ignores the Post‘s advice.