Shouldering responsibility — perhaps too much

SHOULDERING RESPONSIBILITY — PERHAPS TOO MUCH…. Back in September 2004, John Kerry had an assessment of the Bush/Cheney presidency that I’d always wished had caught on: “His is the Excuse Presidency — never wrong, never responsible, never to blame. President Bush’s desk isn’t where the buck stops — it’s where the blame begins.”

It wasn’t that Bush led an error-free presidency; it was that he was never willing to accept responsibility for missteps. Slow economy? It’s Enron’s fault. No WMD in Iraq? It’s the intelligence community’s fault. Job losses? Clinton’s fault. Record deficits? Osama bin Laden’s fault. Health care crisis? Trial lawyers’ fault. Frayed international alliances? France’s fault. If you had a problem, Bush had a scapegoat.

Dana Milbank argues today that while his predecessor “refused to accept blame,” President Obama seems to accept too much blame.

“In case you were wondering who’s responsible,” he added, “I take responsibility.”

That’s very clear, sir. But why not share some with the guys at BP who actually are responsible for the spill?

I don’t want to take this out of context here. Milbank’s column was generally quite critical of the president. Milbank thinks it’s “refreshing” to see a president speak candidly about missteps, but the columnist nevertheless complained about his perceptions of Obama’s “cool, almost bloodless” emotions.

This is obviously the media establishment’s new favorite — if they can’t think of specific steps the president should take but hasn’t, they’ll complain over and over and over again about what they think about his ability to emote.

But Milbank’s more limited point — Obama sure is willing to shoulder a lot of blame, whether it’s warranted or not — seems far more interesting.

I searched the White House website for instances in which the president said publicly that the “buck stops” with him. It turns out the president has claimed responsibility for not only the oil spill crisis, but also on everything from Abdulmutallab’s attempted bombing, to the $1.3 trillion budget deficit Republicans left for him to clean up, to the Wall Street crisis that began long before he took office.

When it comes to leadership qualities in a crisis, having a president who doesn’t just causally pass the buck is a pleasant change of pace.